Though a monumental rise in the average grade point average of University of Wisconsin students may seem like a cause for celebration, UW officials are responding to criticism for the increase with potential explanations.
The average GPA of UW students has been steadily rising and has jumped up by almost a full point in the last 50 years, going from 2.51 in the fall of 1960 to 3.225 in the fall of 2008.
Vice Chancellor of Education Aaron Brower said while the increase in GPA is certainly notable there are no clear reasons for the trend.
“The data is what it is, but the interpretation is really unknown,” Brower said.
Brower added one possible explanation for the increase is grade inflation, with professors grading comparable amounts of classroom success higher than they would have in the past.
He added UW graduates are succeeding after graduation, something that would not be expected of them if professors were doling out more A’s for less academic achievement.
However, he did say he thought UW students are putting a surprisingly small amount of work into their courses.
“It’s kind of in some ways shocking how little time students put into their coursework,” Brower said. “Maybe they’re brilliant … or maybe we’re not expecting enough.”
UW senior and business major Mariana Grutza said she thinks the work she puts into school is comparable to the grades she receives.
“I have always thought that I work very hard for my grades,” Grutza said.
She added while high school had always been easy for her, she was shocked by the amount of work she was required to perform when she came to college.
However, Brower said grade inflation is only one possible explanation for the increase in average GPA.
Another explanation from Brower is the rising SAT and ACT scores of admitted students. He said it was possible UW students are just getting smarter.
“Over the same period (of time as the rise in GPA), ACT and SAT scores of admitted students have risen, as have class rank,” Brower said. “It’s gotten more competitive.”
Another cause of the grade increase could be different ways of teaching and grading, Brower said.
If a professor chooses not to grade on a curve, all of their students could achieve A’s as long as they meet certain competencies, he explained.
He added this trend is not unique to UW. Campuses all around the country are seeing similar rises in grades.
Overall, Brower said he was not sure the rise in grades is something to be concerned about. The increased GPA of students means graduate schools and potential employers will be looking further into what else students have achieved in their undergraduate years.
“I think grades are important, I don’t want to say they’re not at all … but I believe what’s transformative are [extra curricular activities],” he said.
Brower added many employers do not even look at applicants’ college grades, instead choosing to focus on other aspects of their resumes.
“Except in certain fields, employers aren’t really looking at grades … if you’ve graduated from Wisconsin they know you’re smart,” Brower said.