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Average semester GPA rises after grade deflation policy repeal, changes not significant for introductory courses

The average University Grade Point Average for the fall 2015 semester was 3.400, the highest semester average GPA attained at the University. This represents a .95 percent increase from the fall 2014 semester average GPA of 3.368, according to University Media Relations Specialist Min Pullan.

The grade deflation policy was repealed in October 2014, leaving fall 2014 semester the last semester impacted by the policy. The repealed policy had stated that no department within the University should allocate A grades to more than 35 percent of students.


The figure from 2015 represents a near 0.7 point increase from the average GPA from the 2013-2014 academic year, the last academic year impacted by the grade deflation policy, according to figures from a report from Ad Hoc Committee to Review Policies Regarding Assessment and Grading.

While grade deflation was in place, the average semester GPA oscillated between 3.27 and 3.32, according to a report from Ad Hoc Committee to Review Policies Regarding Assessment and Grading.

According to Senior Associate Dean of the College Claire Fowler, the average freshman GPA also increased last semester by an unspecified number.

Fowler explained that after the removal of grade deflation, every department is now responsible for its own grading standards. To ensure integrity, theFaculty Committee on Examinations and Standingwill periodically review departmental standards, she added.

However, in a survey of various introductory courses at the University, multiple course heads noted that grade distributions for their classes did not significantly change following grade deflation removal. 200-level math courses, including MAT 201: Multivariable Calculus and MAT 202: Linear Algebra with Applications, gave out A-range grades to roughly 30 percent of the class. MOL 214: Introduction to Molecular Biology assigned 29 percent of the class A-range grades, while EEB 21: Chaos and Clockwork of Ecological Design issued A-range grades to roughly 31 percent of the class. CHM 201: General Chemistry also saw little change in the grading distribution.

Responses to grade deflation removal also varied between departments.


Professor of Economics Elizabeth Bogan, who teaches ECO 100: Introduction to Microeconomics and ECO 370: American Economic History, said that although the removal of grade deflation meant that there would be no cap on the distribution of certain grades, students did not necessarily receive better grades in her classes.

Bogan explained that she made only slight adjustments when the grade deflation policy began, allocating only a few more B-pluses and a few fewer A-minuses in order to satisfy the cap of 35 perfect A’s. Consequently, she did not change grade distributions drastically after grade deflation removal.

“Before we got rid of the grade deflation policy, I was giving students more A-minuses than I was supposed to, because I thought that the students really deserved it,” Bogan added.

However, Professor of Operations Research and Financial Engineering Robert Vanderbei, who also serves as head instructor for ORF 245: Fundamentals of Engineering Statistics, stated that he gave out A-range grades to more than 50 percent of his students last semester.

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Although he did not teach the course before the repeal of grade deflation, Vanderbei said that he has become a little more generous with regards to grades since the lifting of the grade deflation policy.

Vanderlei noted he always thought the 35 percent target for A’s was silly, but remarked that there are still significant issues with grading that need to be addressed. He noted the issue at hand is grade compression, in which too many students are assigned the same grade.

“If the policy was still in place, with the constant pressure that the faculty feel to inflate grades, eventually 35 percent of students would get A-pluses and 65 percent would get B-pluses. That satisfies the policy but is a terrible example of grade compression,” he added.

Bogan explained that one reason for the repeal of grade deflation is that competitive graduate programs often compared students from various universities without factoring in the University’s unique grade deflation policy. As such, University students were often at a disadvantage. Additionally, Bogan noted that the University passed the grade deflation policy thinking that Harvard University and Yale University would follow, a prediction that ultimately did not come to fruition.

In 2013, the Dean of Undergraduate Education at Harvard Universitydeclaredthe average grade to be an A-minus, with the most frequently awarded grade a flat A.

The repeal of grade deflation has not appeared to have significant effects on improving mental health, according to Director of Counseling and Psychological Services Calvin Chin.

Though students did feel that the grade deflation policy caused extra stress, Chin said, he still does not think that campus mental health is better now that the policy has been repealed. In fact, the number of students seeking services from CPS has been steadily rising.

“The academic rigor of the University certainly makes it sometimes a stressful place,” Chin explained. “Of course, Princeton students are also very gifted and talented." He noted that students at the University are particularly intelligent, and are stressed in part because they hold themselves to the University's exceptionally high academic standards.

Fowler added that the real goal, regardless of the repeal of grade deflation, is shifting the conversation surrounding academics from grading on to assessment and feedback.

“This shift is actually what I wish for all students so they understand how their work is assessed and the value of it and can learn from it,” Fowler said.

She added that it is still very early to see a clear change in GPA.