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What Are Grades Made Of?

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  • Alexandra C. Achen
  • Paul N. Courant

Abstract

The term "grade inflation" covers a multitude of phenomena, some of which are even alleged to be sins. Continuing increases in average grades have been widely documented in many universities over the last several decades. Also widely documented, and often associated with grade inflation, are systematic differences in grade levels by field of study, with a common belief that the sciences and math grade harder than the social sciences, which in turn grade harder than the humanities -- and that economics behaves more like the natural sciences than like the social sciences. The general persistence of these relative differences in grades seem to us to be more interesting and more difficult to explain than the persistence of modest grade inflation in general, and they are the principal focus of this paper. Why, for example, should average grades in English be much higher than average grades in chemistry? And what is going on when relative grades change, when a department's grading practices change markedly relative to other departments? We explore such questions using detailed data on grades at the University of Michigan from Fall 1992 through Winter 2008.

Suggested Citation

  • Alexandra C. Achen & Paul N. Courant, 2009. "What Are Grades Made Of?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 23(3), pages 77-92, Summer.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:23:y:2009:i:3:p:77-92
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.23.3.77
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    File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.23.3.77
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    Cited by:

    1. Maria De Paola & Francesca Gioia, 2011. "Risk Aversion And Major Choice: Evidence From Italian Students," Working Papers 201107, Università della Calabria, Dipartimento di Economia, Statistica e Finanza "Giovanni Anania" - DESF.
    2. Rebecca Summary & William Weber, 2012. "Grade inflation or productivity growth? An analysis of changing grade distributions at a regional university," Journal of Productivity Analysis, Springer, vol. 38(1), pages 95-107, August.
    3. repec:bla:manchs:v:85:y:2017:i:1:p:106-131 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Timothy M. Diette & Manu Raghav, 2016. "Does the Early Bird Catch the Worm or a Lower GPA? Evidence from a Liberal Arts College," Working Papers 2016-01, DePauw University, Department of Economics and Management.
    5. Horacio Matos-Díaz, 2014. "Measuring grade inflation and grade divergence accounting for student quality," Cogent Economics & Finance, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 2(1), pages 1-16, December.
    6. Hernández-Julián, Rey & Looney, Adam, 2016. "Measuring inflation in grades: An application of price indexing to undergraduate grades," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 55(C), pages 220-232.
    7. Talia Bar & Vrinda Kadiyali & Asaf Zussman, 2012. "Putting Grades in Context," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 30(2), pages 445-478.
    8. Ehrenberg, Ronald G., 2010. "Analyzing the factors that influence persistence rates in STEM field, majors: Introduction to the symposium," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 29(6), pages 888-891, December.
    9. Shao-Hsun Keng, 2016. "The Effect of a Stricter Academic Dismissal Policy on Course Selection, Student Effort, and Grading Leniency," Education Finance and Policy, MIT Press, vol. 11(2), pages 203-224, Spring.
    10. Delaney, Liam & Harmon, Colm & Ryan, Martin, 2013. "The role of noncognitive traits in undergraduate study behaviours," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 32(C), pages 181-195.
    11. repec:dew:wpaper:2016-01 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I23 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Higher Education; Research Institutions

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