An A is the most common grade awarded at all types of colleges, but GPAs may have peaked at community colleges. That's two of several takeaways from a new survey, as reported by Scott Jaschik, in Inside Higher Ed.
Please read the whole article, as it contains a number of interesting statistics and commentary from various authorities. Some previous reports had indicated that grade inflation was not as profound at community colleges, but this survey presents data demonstrating otherwise. The creep upward continues at universities and selective colleges, but may have stalled at two-year colleges. The piece doesn't speculate why the surge has ceased at community colleges, but perhaps it's because of the nationwide push to enroll more students—many of whom are woefully unprepared for college-level work.
Whatever any causative factors, if the survey is correct, we now face a student population for which an A (traditional translation: Excellent Work) is the most typical expectation. This fact is even more profound than the comic Lake Wobegone scenario, where "All the children are above average." (That would be a B, not an A.) On the other hand, just because an A is the most common grade awarded, GPA can be reduced, unfortunately, by lots of Ds and Fs. Teachers will tell you that their students mostly "either get it or they don't." Therein lies a major challenge for all of us.
To be more precise, at two-year institutions, recent years have seen slight increases in the percentages of D and F grades awarded. While A is still the top grade (more than 36 percent), its share has gone down slightly in recent years, according to the piece.
Faculty members at community colleges should be able to relate to comments in the article speculating on why grade inflation occurs in our present times:
In his analysis, [researcher] Rojstaczer notes that community colleges have some characteristics that might make them as prone to grade inflation as are four-year institutions (and he considers community college grades high, too, even if they aren't still rising). For example, he notes that many community college leaders embrace the student-as-consumer idea just as do four-year college presidents. And community colleges rely on adjunct instructors, many of whom lack the job security to be confident in being a tough grader, since students tend to favor easier graders in reviews.
Rojstaczer thinks that, to understand grade inflation, one needs to look at the student body at two-year colleges, which he characterizes as less spoiled than those at four-year institutions. "One factor may be that tuition is low at these schools, so students don’t feel quite so entitled," he writes. "Another factor may be that community college students come, on average, from less wealthy homes, so students don’t feel quite so entitled."
It should be noted that the article also includes data indicating that grade inflation is not really a problem, if you measure the subsequent success of students with good grades. Please have a look.