Exploring the Unknown

Exploring the Unknown
Representing the 99%!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Re-Defining the 'F' Word: Grade Inflation in Colleges & Universities

The Need for Better Reporting
Photo © Janemitchinson.ca
To 'fail' a student is becoming increasingly difficult in lieu of grade inflation. Why are colleges and universities dumbing down their programs? Third level institutions in countries such as Canada and the Republic of Ireland have started being criticised for becoming too lenient in their grading rubrics. A growing culture is becoming prevalent whence receiving anything less than a seventy percent (70%) is unacceptable. Both college and university students along with administration are adding undue pressure on lecturers to pass students despite the fact that many of these students are not meeting the criteria set out by the course objectives.

Failure is Not an Option 

Read all about it! Grade inflation reaches a new high.'
Photo © Mike van den Driessche
In the Republic of Ireland, a passing grade at an Institute of Technology (IOT) is a forty percent (40%). A compensatory pass is a thirty-five percent (35%). The standards set are so low that despite protest by many lecturers, students are being allowed into IOTs on the basis of their inflated leaving cert grades. Making matters worse is the IOT’s attitude towards failing students. According to *Janet, an assistant lecturer at an IOT in Dublin, during an examination board, the Registrar overturned a failed grade of a student because this student had successfully completed all of her other courses that semester. As *Janet states, “this was despite the fact that the student in question had not even undertaken a continuous assessment worth thirty percent (30%) of her final result and had failed her final examination! Thus, she did not meet the learning requirements of the course.”

Photo © Irish Independent.ie
This inevitably leads to complacency towards education and students are reaping the rewards from a false sense of achievement. Furthermore, administrators are more concerned with keeping students in school rather than setting the bar at an acceptable level that produces quality graduates across the board. An article in the Irish Times states that “one of these threats derives from pressure to follow Britain's disastrous mistake in "dumbing down" higher education by diluting standards. Pressure in favour of this exists here both within the system itself – due to some competitive factors – but also externally from the political system, which tends to seek increases in the output of higher education while holding back on the resources needed to secure such an outcome.”

Canadian Education 

The Grass isn't Always Greener on the Other Side!
Canada’s educational system has been under scrutiny over the last ten years. According to the authors of Evidence on Grades and Grade Inflation at Ontario’s Universities“Canadian universities are under pressure, mostly due to declining federal and provincial grants for postsecondary education, to attract more students and to retain them.” *Mark, a professor at one of Quebec’s leading anglophone cegeps has experienced similar pressures as *Janet. Over the course of the last five years he has been called down to the Dean’s office on several occasions due to students complaining that they are being marked too hard. As *Mark states, “It is an unwritten rule that to give students anything less than a passing grade is unacceptable. I am not saying that we have to pass everybody, but students do not have to work nearly as hard as they would have before. This is largely due to the lack of support from upper management.” As a result, the expectations of student performance is less than what it used to be despite the fact that students are performing higher on average today than they would have a decade ago.

Eligibility vs. Suitability 

The Verdict?
Educational systems are teaching students to fear failure. Grade inflation is creating a false sense of accomplishment whilst preventing students from learning from their mistakes. As a result many graduates are entering the workforce unprepared for the realities awaiting them. According to John Walshe of the Irish Independent, “too many of the so-called next generation have little interest in learning on the job, they take no pride in their work and they struggle to turn up on time.” Lowering expectations does not work. Students are being deprived of the tools necessary to succeed and as a result are finding the transition from academia to the workplace more difficult. Thus, you may have a recent graduate who is eligible for an employment position but who is not suitable. The ability to take constructive criticism; to work as part of a team, excellent organizational and time management skills and an ability to think of creative solutions under pressure are just some of the qualities associated with a good work ethic. It is up to the educational institutions entrusted with educating its respective country’s youth to raise the bar and ensure that students are better prepared for their lives ahead.

Nota Bene: *Janet was interviewed in person on April 5, 2010 in Dublin, Ireland. *Mark was intervied in person on October 6, 2010 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Both *Janet and *Mark have used a pseudonym.


Fitzgerald, Garett. (2004). "We Must Beware of Third-Level Dumbing Down." Irish Times.

Anglin, Paul and Meng, Ronald. (2000). "Evidence on Grades and Grade Inflation at Ontario’s Universities." Canadian Public Policy. Analyse De Politiques, Vol. XXVI, NO. 3.

Walshe, John. (2006). "Employers lash out at the text generation." The Irish Independent.

The above article was originally published in 2010 through Suite 101.com now known as Suite.io.

Corbin, M.R.J.  (October 19, 2010), Re-Defining the 'F' Word: Grade Inflation in College & University. In Education & Career.  Creative Marketeam Canada Ltd. Suite101.com.  Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

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