School for Scandal: How Universities Help Their Students Shop for Easy Classes
(Editor's Note: This piece was submitted by a UT student requesting, for obvious reasons, anonymity. SeeThruEdu.com has confirmed that he is in fact a current UT student.)
Some readers of the Austin-American Statesman were shocked to read that “approximately 43 percent of all college grades today are A’s, an increase of 28 percentage points since 1960.” At least one reader was so shocked that PolitiFact launched an investigation of the claim written by Dr. Thomas Lindsay of the Texas Public Policy Foundation. PolitiFact found Dr. Lindsay’s claim to be “100 percent true.” The question for us in Texas is whether or not Texas institutions of higher education are immune to this national trend.
From my experience as a UT student, it is worse. UT, and other Texas colleges and universities, are actively contributing to this national epidemic.
Students are beginning to take even further advantage of this trend in college grading by using online grade information to inflate their own grades even more. Resources like MyEdu.com and UT’s own UTLife.com have made it easier to track the history of professors grading practices. These resources compile hundreds, sometimes thousands, of grade reports for each professor and each class. Students can now easily see which professors give out the most A’s, thereby designing their schedules to achieve higher GPAs. This process of shopping for courses is common knowledge among UT students. More alarming, however, is the source of MyEdu’s funding: the UT Board of Regents. UT gave $10 million to fund the website and provided it access to private student records.
As a result, it is now easier to pinpoint the most effortless path toward a high GPA at UT and other institutions offering MyEdu or like instruments. These measures will accordingly serve to increase graduation rates. It has been demonstrated that institutions with significant grade inflation have higher six-year graduation rates The President of UT, Bill Powers, recently pledged that UT’s graduation rates will increase from 50% to 70% within the next 3 years. Such a practice goes against the very founding of UT as “an institution of the first class.” This scheme ultimately robs students of the rigor required for deep learning. The authors of the national study of grade inflation, Stuart Rojstaczer and Christopher Healy, write that “when college students perceive that the average grade in a class will be an A, they do not try to excel…it is likely that the decline in student study hours, student engagement, and literacy are partly the result of diminished academic expectations.” The national study, Academically Adrift, reinforces Rojstaczer and Healy’s sentiments. The study, which tested over twenty universities, including UT, found that 36 percent of students show “small or empirically non-existent” gains in foundational skills (critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing) after 4 years of college, as measured by the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA). Worse still, the Washington Post, through a public records request, found that UT students scored in the lowest quartile among peer institutions on the CLA test. In effect, students are achieving higher grades, but not gaining the skills necessary to merit such grades. While UT might list critical thinking and complex problem-solving as its core focus, MyEdu’s shopping-for-A’s effect simultaneously hinders the intellectual development of its students.
However, grade inflation is not simply a UT problem. Students at Texas A&M and Texas Tech also utilize MyEdu to shop for easy A’s. The breadth of MyEdu has expanded to encompass almost every public university in Texas, including more than 83,000 Aggies and 79,000 Longhorns since 2011. It is my experience that students disproportionately take classes with the professors who give out the most A’s, with little regard to the quality of instruction. This disease has spread throughout Texas and shows no signs of slowing down.
The focus of Texas universities is askew. Higher graduation rates mean little if students show “empirically non-existent” improvements in cognitive thinking. These are superficial solutions that do not benefit students. It is clear that all too often today a Texas—and not just a Texas— degree is not indicative of meaningful student-learning. This disease will rot our universities from the inside out.