The new average

Grades at Williams College are currently considered inflated. Sorry for those who were hoping otherwise; it is certainly news to my ears. But what does this really mean? For surely decade after decade the academic rigor, the standards and demands of a four-year education at Williams College have remained unwavering. Each generation of Ephs has been fairly tested – academics are no more easier nowadays then in the past. Perhaps, we have yet no fair, objective way of truly knowing what an A means to the ghost of Colonel Ephraim Williams.

The only thing that has changed is how letters translate into meaning. You could say that it is as simple as a matter of semantics. So yes, it is true that a “3.0” or “4.0” is not the same as a “3.0” or “4.0” was 10, 20, 30 or 40 years ago. But what does it matter?

It is all relative. The real questions should not be so much whether or not grade inflation is occurring presently, but rather, why the College is falling in line with others in practicing this phenomenon. Was this an unavoidable reality? A sort of modernization of academia?

The answer may be quite obvious: increased competition in post-college employment and all that precedes it, such as internships, fellowships and grants, is creating a culture that weighs an individual’s GPA with greater importance. As its significance has increased in the application process over the years, ensuring that Williams students remain situated in competitive spots for achieving their goals has become a concern for many students and faculty, resulting in a gradual shift in the grading system. The pressure to fill summers with resume builders by acquiring competitive summer internships to gain work experience has grown tremendously in recent years. In present times, tens of thousands of applications dressed-to-the-nines pour into businesses, finance and legal firms, government, scholarships and grants – all seeking the same end.
While the individuality and robustness of an applicant varies in importance depending on the desired position, GPA will undoubtedly always have a place. However, the importance of such factors could easily continue to shrink. The sheer applicant pool size has transformed the process into a robotic and largely superficial one. Many employment positions carry minimum GPAs, which more than discourage students from applying to certain positions without the minimum – they will not look at them. As shallow and cold as this may seem, it is very sensible and very just in today’s job market. Employers seem to view academic achievement as an indispensable hallmark in and of itself; a person who demonstrates this type of consistency and commitment has already greatly proven his or herself; and furthermore, they see it as the most accurate and richest determinant of person’s potential. Moreover, when employers make selections, it would seem much wiser to gamble on a college-age kid sporting the higher GPA among the masses. In an age when the strength of the dollar is depleting, the strength of the GPA will only increase.

Assuming this is true, the schools that initially began to experience grade inflation have created a grading domino effect. Perhaps many students and faculty at numerous colleges and universities have felt obliged to conform to these new standards in order to offer students fair and leveled employment opportunities. But for other schools, the initial admissions acceptance signified the true challenge, leaving the four years themselves secondary in the evaluation process. This is problematic – for this renders GPAs worthless. The Committee for Education Policy has established guidelines that work to combat the issue of grade inflation at the College as well as to restore average course grades to its past lower numbers. Perhaps the old-fashioned C equating to “average” is part of what gave institutions a grounded sense of tradition and character – similar to why selling lemonade when you’re little or mowing lawns when you’re a teenager helps you learn the true value of the dollar.

Henry Montalbano ’10 is a political science major from Washington, D.C.