I keep hearing about what an enormous problem grade inflation is for our colleges and universities. As the above graph (courtesy gradeinflation.com) suggests, grade inflation is real. GPAs are increasing by something like .15 points per decade, on average. And I've seen solid quantitative evidence for this occuring in my own school.
But why is this a crisis? After all, currencies usually experience modest inflation, and unless it becomes rapid inflation, it's generally not considered a problem. You could buy a loaf of bread for a dollar twenty years ago and you really can't now. Big deal - our incomes have inflated, too.
Isn't it the same with grade point averages? As long as prospective employers and graduate schools are aware that GPAs are higher than they used to be, they can adjust expectations accordingly. And regardless of inflation, a person with a 3.8 GPA, all else being equal, is more likely to get hired than someone with a 3.7. Who cares what those scores would have been 20 years ago?
Granted, it's not exactly like money, since GPAs have an upper limit of 4.0. So what has happened is that the range of GPAs has narrowed - more folks are clustered up in the mid 3s than previously. But again, so what? Why is one distribution of grades better than another, so long as better students are still getting higher grades?
One concern, though, is that grade inflation is not uniform. As gradeinflation.com points out, schools like Stanford have seen lots of inflation, while Cal State Hayward has really held the line. In that sense, the schools aren't necessarily comparable. A Stanford student graduating with a 3.8 will be preferred over a Hayward student with a 3.4, even though the Hayward student would possibly merit a 3.9 if her school had experienced Stanford-level inflation. But were the different schools' GPAs ever directly comparable? And if you're weighing two job applications, one from a Stanford student and one from a Cal State Hayward student, are you really looking at GPAs?
Help me out here. Where's the crisis?