Grade inflation not a problem at USF, some say

Over the past decade, the average GPA of USF students has risen slightly, but officials said it’s not likely that   this  is  due  to professors bolstering grades.

The average GPA at the University was 2.99 in 1998, 3.04 in 2003 and 3.06 in 2008, prompting some to wonder whether these increases fall in line with a nationwide study on grade inflation.

Conducted by the American Association of Behavior and Social Sciences, the 2004 study concluded that grade inflation, or the rise of a grade because of factors other than student performance — like easier classes or more lenient professors — occurs at many U.S. colleges and universities and is appearing at an increasing rate.

The study cites Stuart Rojstaczer’s research on the nationwide trend of GPAs, documented on his Web site, His findings include data collected from 34 schools for the fiscal years 1991-1992, 1996-1997 and 2001-2002. GPAs in all the schools showed a continual rise: from 2.94 in 1992 to 3.00 in 1997 and 3.09 in 2002. Among the universities reviewed, private schools reported the highest GPAs.

“It’s not all bad,” said Robert Sullins, dean of undergraduate studies. “That’s the problem with using the term ‘grade inflation’ — people automatically think negatively. GPAs are going up slightly each year, and it’s a national occurrence.”

Though the study found that these increases were often linked to grade inflation, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies Glen Besterfield said this isn’t an issue at USF.

Over the past decade, overall GPAs have risen 0.07 points, which Besterfield said is an increase too miniscule to be pinpointed as grade inflation.

“When it all washes out, there really is no grade inflation — and if there is, there are other factors to consider,” he said.

Besterfield said higher grades can be attributed to a smarter freshman class and greater selectivity by the University.

“This university has really started to embrace one of the pillars, which is student success,” he said, explaining that the overall quality of the University, from the selection process to the improvement of instruction and the performance of students, has increased over the last several years.

“This university has gotten to be a much better university,” he said.

The University has become more selective about who it admits, therefore the average GPAs of incoming freshmen have risen.

Last year, the average freshman came in with a 3.61 GPA and an SAT score of 1133. This year, that has risen to a 3.72 GPA and a 1148 SAT score.

Some universities, however, thought they had a grade inflation problem and took steps to lower students’ GPAs.

National University, the second-largest private, nonprofit university in California, instituted several practices that have lowered student GPAs.

By focusing on academic rigor and quality, and creating task forces and committees to review the curriculum, GPAs for undergraduate courses at NU declined by 9.6 percent from 1996 to 2002.

Besterfield said that any policies put in place to curb grade inflation, like those instituted at NU, will likely not work at USF. He said he personally feels it would be an infringement on academic freedom.

Sherman Dorn, president of the United Faculty of Florida at USF, said any measure that attempted to regulate professors’ grading practices would be intrusive.

“I think that faculty would look at it as a waste of time,” he said.

Dorn said he believes there are other issues the University should be concerned about, like recent budget cuts and student debt.

Elaine Howe, associate professor of secondary education, said she would resist any attempt to regulate how she grades her students.

“I know my students. I’ve been teaching for quite a long time. I have very strong ideas about what I think is progress for them.”