Reform May Be Impossible

Two powerful forces now drive grade inflation. These are: use of SET (Student Evaluation of Teaching) data to evaluate teaching performance of faculty, and the consumer mentality which says education is a marketable commodity and students are its customers. Extensive use of SET data as an evaluation of teaching effectiveness has led to the rise of grade disparity. It is apparent that many faculty now award increasingly elevated class GPA’s. A quick scroll through the following web site… bears this out. We believe elevated GPA’s occur in response to strong reliance on SET. Grade Inflation: A Crisis in Higher Education by Valen Johnson, Professor of Statistics, Duke University reinforces this belief.

A Review of Valen E. Johnson's Book:
Grade Inflation: A Crisis in College Education,
262 pages, Springer-Verlag 2003, New York;
And a Reminder of LSU Faculty Senate Resolution 03-04:
On Grades and Standards
by Carruth McGehee, President of the Faculty Senate
August 29, 2003
Table of Contents, with Links
1. Summary
2. How SET Numbers Are Biased
3. Grade Inflation, Broad Perspective
4. Remedies Moderate and Local
5. How to Reform the Use of SET Numbers
6. Remedies Formulaic and Centralized
7. Reservations and an Antidote

Important links are located in the summary.

Additional scrolling through the University of Georgia’s grade distributions shows that some faculty have, to a greater or lesser extent, resisted this trend. Hence faculty now form a continuum in their belief of which is more important, honest evaluation of learning or pandering for high SET scores. Reform of SET will likely be a major task in itself. However, there remains little doubt that it requires doing. Dr. Johnson offers several feasible solutions to the problem. These can be used as guidelines. Reform will likely impinge on the amount of time that faculty involved in such reform devote to scholarship. Hence, they will suffer on their evaluations by peers from decreased attention to this important activity. The alternative is to avoid engaging in reform altogether. The process may very well drag on and on. Disagreement over the extent of reform required will add further delay. This is not the primary reason why reform may be impossible.

Higher education has become increasingly independent of state revenues. Tighter budgets require cuts in spending. Currently, junior and community colleges form a major component of the delivery system of the general education portion of the four year degree program. These are tuition driven. Private four year institutions are also tuition driven. Both extensively market their product through advertising. State universities also engage in marketing campaigns. Tuition revenues have become critically important to the financial success of many, if not most institutions of higher education in America. In other words, students pay tuition, enrollments form the basis for monetary income to the institution, and students are customers of the educational product. When faculty find themselves in a situation of declining enrollments in the courses they teach, the cost – in faculty salary – to benefit – from student tuition – ratio is altered. Students must seek avenues which offer increasingly higher GPA’s, or they quickly find themselves below average. This is the primary reason why reform may not be possible.