The downside of ‘grade inflation’

Grade inflation may be nothing new at undergraduate schools, but the practice at law schools is getting plenty of recent attention, thanks to a New York Times article.

In fact, a CBS MoneyWatch column is reporting that at least 10 law schools have inflated grades in the last two years — whether it’s through modified pass/fail grading, making grading systems and curves easier on students or taking a radical approach like Loyola Law’s reported retroactive boost of 0.333 points to every student’s GPA.

Law school officials explain the practice in terms of competitiveness — not their own, but rather their students’. Higher grades, the argument goes, may equate to a higher likelihood of being hired.

It’s hard to see how grade inflation will do more than perhaps temporarily appease students and recent grads, outraged by tuition amounts and disillusioned by the lack of job prospects. Many factors are to blame for decreasing job opportunities, and many factors must be considered when tackling the issue. Increasing students’ GPA at any given school is unlikely to have a lasting effect on the students’ likelihood of getting jobs in the long run. In fact, grade inflation may create an unhealthy practice across the board. As the Times article explains:

“These moves can create a vicious cycle like that seen in chief executive pay: if every school in the bottom half of the distribution raises its marks to enter the top half of the distribution, or even just to become average, the average creeps up. This puts pressure on schools to keep raising their grades further.”

In the next installment of this column, law deans will weigh in with their insights and answers to two important questions:

  • Is the practice of grade inflation effective: will it really make a school’s students more qualified in the eyes of potential employers, or will the employers simply reset their expectations when looking at resumes?

  • Does the practice compromise a law school’s academic integrity?

— by Ursula Furi-Perry, career editor for The National Jurist