Grade Inflation due to Academic Entitlement

I started noticing a change in kids these days, when I was still one of those kids.  When I was in elementary school, I was terrified of middle schoolers.  Then when I was a middle schooler, I was terrified of high schoolers.  But when my friends and I made it to high school, we found that the respect we had of our elders was not in the elementary or middle schoolers… They had already embraced the attitude of the entitled generation.

When I made it to senior year of undergrad, I felt that there were a lot of my peers getting grades they may not deserve.  I especially noticed this in group projects, working with people that I didn’t think should be getting degrees to build roads, bridges, and buildings, but were getting them.  Looking back, I’m not sure if it is a big deal and they are probably qualified for the jobs they now have.

I’ve often thought about how I will teach this entitled generation if indeed I wind up becoming a professor.  While scrolling through The Chronicle website this cold Sunday morning, I came across this article addressing this issue:

This article asks teaching professionals how they deal with students asking for higher grades on a paper in which they earned a C, but “worked really hard on.”

Some of the responses are funny, some let them down easy, and some are just mean.

Here are some of my favorite lines that I could see myself using if I find myself in a similar situation:

Please be advised: I am often too generous rather than too stingy. Thus is possible that when I re-examine your paper your grade might be lowered. I await your response.

I know that it is unfair that some students spend no time at all on schoolwork and get A’s while others struggle and barely scrape C’s. I suggest you quickly cry a river, build a bridge and get over it. In the meantime, reflect on whether you want other students graded based on how hard they try. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather that papers for Surgery 101: How Not to Kill the People You Cut Open and for Architecture 101: How to Build Bridges That Do Not Collapse and Leave People Plummeting to Their Deaths were graded on students’ demonstration of correct understanding of the concepts, not how much effort they put into writing it.

Thank you for the note. I have reread your email several times, and I am very impressed with your committed engagement with one of the signature cultural issues of our age, college grade inflation. Your letter takes its place alongside many highly distinguished essays and investigative forays into the deforming of the classic “bell-shaped curve” into a top-heavy inverted cone in which the overwhelming majority of students reside in the topmost regions of excellence and the merely average are troubling outliers.

I think these are great lines to get entitled students thinking about whether they actually deserve a better grade or are just angry about getting a low grade.

What do you think the best approach would be?

Category(s): Prep Future Prof

2 Responses to Grade Inflation due to Academic Entitlement

  1. This is a really interesting problem that I have had direct experience with during my time as a teaching assistant in my department (industrial and systems engineering). There are several junior level courses that are prerequisites to the senior level courses so that not passing a junior level class can delay graduation by up to one year. I have had students argue over single points or stand in my office and literally cry while explaining why they have to get a passing grade. Like you mention, I feel that we are training future professionals and that holding them to a high standard is critical for the profession. In fact, when an ill-prepared undergraduate leaves this university and does a bad job, they damage the reputation of this university and effectively devalue our degrees. Therefore, when I first began to work as a TA I was very strict in how I graded assignments and would respond to requests for re-grades in much the same way as the examples that you show. This led to statements in my semester reviews referring to me as the ‘mean TA’ and I have been advised that my expectations for them are too high and that I must work on being more flexible. The culture of grade inflation is pervasive and I find myself having a hard time finding a balance that works for both the students and myself. I think that best approach is to find softer ways to achieve the same impact as the examples statements – though I have not figured out how to accomplish this yet!

  2. I think clear expectations at the outset are useful. If you are committed to a bell-curve, just tell students from the outset. Then you can default to the fact that, while they did excellent work, their peers had better work. Just one suggestion.

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