Despite trend, officials say grade inflation not an issue at USC

A recent study found that grade inflation occurs more at private colleges and universities than at their public counterparts, but officials say grade inflation is not a problem at USC.

According to the study by the Teachers College Record, private colleges give out higher grade point averages to students who have the same qualifications as their peers in public colleges.

The study, which looked at average GPAs at 80 colleges and universities from 1930 to 2006, found that GPAs at private and public colleges rose at similar rates in the first half of the 20th century. After the 1950s, however, students at private colleges started getting significantly higher grades.

According to the study, the average GPA at private colleges is 3.3, compared to 3.0 at public colleges. USC’s average GPA is 3.18 — below the national average for private universities.

Like other universities, USC’s average GPA has also increased, rising 3 percent in the past decade. But J. Lawford Anderson, director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and a professor of earth sciences, said he does not think this reflects a trend of grade inflation.

“I don’t think our grades are rising at USC any more than the national average,” he said. “Grades here are monitored, so grade inflation is not a problem.”

USC officials say grade inflation has not become a problem because of strict rules and regulations.

For example, a number of schools allow students to drop classes late in the semester, so students who might receive bad grades instead receive no grade at all, raising the school’s average GPA. USC, meanwhile, only lets students drop classes without a mark of withdraw on their records during the first three weeks of the semester.

“Students are getting better, but also we have very strict rules about when students can drop a class,” said Steven Lamy, vice dean for academic programs and professor of international relations, “In the College [of Letters, Arts & Sciences], we don’t really see any grade problems.”

The office of Academic Records and Registrar looks at trends between grades given to a student in a particular class and the student’s overall GPA to ensure that classes are not grading too easy or too hard.

Anderson said the reason for the rise in the average GPA might be the quality of the students.

“Our incoming students are coming in with better credentials, and I expect that they should perform better,” he said.

Anderson added that he has seen a significant improvement in his students’ performance since he began teaching at USC in 1975. He said he gives more A’s to students now than in previous years.

“My students at USC have gotten so much better that I’ve stopped curving grades,” he said. “They are that good.”

Though the Office of Academic Records and Registrar monitors grades in all disciplines, each school has a different method of assigning grades.

Paula Narvaez, a freshman majoring in architecture, said that although she appreciates that some grades are curved on tests in some of her major classes, she feels curving grades can leave students with less incentive to perform well.

“It’s kind of like going into class not really giving your whole effort and still getting the grade,” she said. “Honestly, it’s what you expect going to college. You have to expect to work hard.”

Narvaez added that she believes classes with a quota system for the number of students who can get different grades offer a greater challenge to her.

“I know for some people getting straight A’s in high school, they expect to get A’s in college. For architecture, it’s kind of a reality check,” she said. “If you don’t understand the concepts, you’re not going to make the grade.”

Noel Kim, a junior majoring in biological sciences, said she believes quotas are necessary for ensuring a level of credibility in the grades professors give out.

“I think professors give a strict numbers of A’s to somehow show quantitatively that these students are the brightest and were at the upper tier of the strict bell-shape curve that most science professors follow,” she said.