For many returning undergraduate Princeton students, the month of August was the harbinger of good news. That month, a University committee tasked with evaluating the necessity of the grade deflation policy concluded that it should be rescinded. In place for the past decade, the grade deflation policy has capped the number of A grades any department could give to less than 35 percent.
There is a plethora of arguments against the policy: it is outdated and archaic; it gives B grades to A-quality work; it fuels competition and inhibits cooperation; it even convinces prospective students against choosing to matriculate to Princeton. When investigating the efficacy of grade deflation, the committee looked into many of these concerns, and in their report, they expressly investigated several of the aforementioned topics. In fact, the entire fourth segment of the report consisted of chapters covering “anxiety among students, competitiveness outside Princeton, admissions yield and impact on freshmen.”
Yet it is also important to remain cognizant of the fact that grade deflation, despite the negative reputation it has earned over the years, was, indelibly, a part of Princeton's culture. It was launched under wholly positive intentions — Princeton was to be the first in what would hopefully become a larger battle to curb the rampant grade inflation that was spreading across college campuses nationwide. Moreover, it was to hold our professors accountable, to ensure that free grades were not simply given to students who enrolled (not that this was the case to begin with).
Even today, when speaking of our academics, grade deflation is commonly cited to validate the worth of a Princeton diploma. Unlike other schools that have a rather unenviable reputation of simply giving away A grades, Princeton graduates can say that their GPA means something. Compared to our sister institutions where the average grade can be as high as an A- (here's to you, Yale), we can revel in our academic challenges.
What's more, other claims about grade deflation have minimal basis. Even though anxiety about the grade deflation policy may indeed give accepted students pause before deciding on a college, the statistics show that it has really done little, if anything, to actually deter them from either applying to or deciding upon Princeton. The number of applicants, as well as the number of students in each class has actually grown from year to year. In fact, the number of applications Princeton has received has “risen for seven consecutive years,” concluding with the Class of 2015’s applicant pool.
Despite grade deflation’s positive aspects, I feel that I am in accord with most students when I say that the committee's recommendation to do away with the grade deflation policy shows a progressive and forward-looking mindset. However, it is important that the administration and the student body recognize that, if the policy is indeed done away with, it must be for the right reasons. Since grade deflation’s inception, stricter standards have inextricably worked their way into the minds of students and faculty alike. But now, after 10 years, those standards are self-sustaining. Even without the threat of grade deflation in place, professors will still ensure that students get grades that are indicative of their level of effort and quality of work. The chances are high that Princeton's academics will remain as rigorous as always, that the distribution of grades will remain similar to before, and that Princeton will be Princeton, as usual.
In the end, even if grade deflation ceases to be a reflection of our current academic struggles and instead fades into the past as a relic of a bygone administration, we should remember it not as the monster it is so commonly labeled, but instead as a successful effort at spreading a message to Princeton students, faculty and the wider community as a whole — that we hold our students and professors accountable, and that we will continue to do so, policy or not.
Jason Choe is a sophomorefrom Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. He can be reached at email@example.com.