Grade inflation in the Ivy Leagues (and their non-Ivy peers)

If these were Harvard students, all of them would have above-average grades

If these were Harvard students, all of them would have above-average grades

Sometimes my posts just re-write themselves.  This is me writing in May 2009:

Twenty years ago, a Stanford professor let me in on a little secret:  In a Lake Woebegone-ish way, all the students at Stanford are above average.  Truly.  The faculty was not allowed to fail anyone, so much so that, if it looked as if a student was failing, up to and including the final exam, the student was just “dropped out” of the class.  “A” grades were handed out like candy.  After all, Stanford got some of the best students in America.  You couldn’t let them, or their paying parents, down by giving them bad grades.  The notion that it might be good for them to compete against others as smart as they were, so as to winnow out the best of the best, was anathema.

And this is the latest report on the grade scam in the Ivy Leagues:

Life is very, very good for the select few who gain entrance to Harvard University as undergraduates. Thanks to Harvey Mansfield, the very rarest of phenomena, an outspokenly conservative member of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the world now knows that the average grade at Harvard College (the undergraduate portion of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences) is A minus.

Read the rest here, because Thomas Lifson has written a long, fact-filled, analytical post about the Ivy League (and comparable colleges) scam.

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  • JKB

    I commented on this at OTB yesterday and the Harvard Defense League came out in full force.  Funny how insecure they all are about criticism of the old alma mater.  Apparently, grades don’t matter, the value of Harvard and the Ivy League is who you sleep with while there.  Every one night stand is a future network node or something.  
    Seems to me this would be a good jumping off point for post-graduation competency testing of university grads from all schools.  Even the field as far as educational attainment and possibly create an avenue for MOOC and self-study validation for employers.  

  • lee

    Back in my grad school days, when I was rubbing elbows with graduates of the finest of ivy-covered institutions, I learned a few things:

    I was MUCH more impressed with someone who managed to graduate from a school like Ohio State, or Nebraska, or Tennessee, (or Big State U) with a 3.0 average than someone who graduated from an Ivy League school, a Baby Ivy, a Seven Sister, etc., (hereafter refered to as “fancy shmancy schools”) with a 4.0 average.
    The state school alum had been tossed as a fresh-faced freshman into a sea of THOUSANDS of students, tempted for four (or five) years with vast quanities of booze and parties on weekends, and left to pretty much totally fend for themselves while there. They might be in a class of 500 or a thousadn students!
    The fancy-shmancy school grads pretty much had their hands held through all four years of school. At the Big State U, no one, and I mean NO ONE gave a rat’s tuches whether you sank or swam; the F-S schools had a vested interest in you getting out with a reasonably good GPA–they had a reputation to keep up.
    When applying to graduate programs, the committee that reviews the applications piles them up in order of preference: At the top of the pile, NO MATTER WHAT THE GPA MAY BE, and no matter what the GRE scores may be, go the applications from the alumni of the fancy-shmancy schools. If there are any spots left over, they MAY look at the lowly little Big State U grads. Even if this is a BIG STATE U!!!
    That being said, it does help to get truly STELLAR GRE scores–my whole time in my PhD program, the department chair always introduced me as “the one with the GRE scores.” It bothered me a litte, but hey! I did get accepted.

    Anyhow, I don’t think my observations of Big State U alumni versus Fancy Shmancy U alumni have caught on very well. But I do stand by it!

  • David Foster

    Harvard’s excuse for itself was that “the university is more focused on learning than grades.”
    Suppose there was an airline-pilot training school that had very selective admissions of people based on school grades, aptitude tests, extracurricular activities, and alumni connections…and that this school somehow had the authority to grant the Airline Transport Pilot certificate, and it did so to 90% of the students, without worrying too much about their actual development of aviation knowledge and skills.
    Would Harvard administrators feel comfortable in flying with the graduates of this school?

  • gpc31

    Everyone should take a deep breath from all this Harvard-bashing.  Why take Harvard as seriously as it takes itself?
    Harvard (like the other Ivies and Stanford) has become a global luxury brand.  Higher demand + limited supply = higher price of admission. 
    The more rejections, the more exclusive the club, the greater the snob appeal, and therefore the higher perceived value of the brand.   The practical result is that above a certain threshold of qualification, admission to any Ivy is effectively random, except for a certain amount of p.c. pandering, amply demonstrated by Ron Unz at
    Remember, the words “prestigious” and “prestidigitation” share the same prefix.
    So, mathematically speaking, of course the Ivies do not have a monopoly on intelligent people.  In fact, one would be well advised to read and savor Carlo Cippola’s “The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity”, in particular the second law, which states that “The probability that a certain person (will) be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person” — meaning that if 20% of the overall population is stupid, then 20% of janitors will be stupid, as will 20% of Nobel Prize winners.  I would wager that the practical proportion of stupid professors is higher than that of the general population because they can’t resist pontificating outside their field of expertise.

    If you truly care about the state of education at Harvard (as opposed to tossing back shots of self-righteousness with schadenfreude chasers), a good place to start would be Professor Harry Lewis’ blog “bits and pieces”.  You probably won’t agree with everything he says, but he is an informed observer, as well as a wise and humane man, a leading computer scientist, and wonderful teacher.  He wrote a book published in 2007 called “Excellence without a Soul:  Does Liberal Education Have a Future”.

  • 11B40

    Wasn’t the Ivy League the place where “a gentleman’s ‘C’ ” was given birth to many, many decades ago ???  I pretty much always concluded that that was an inflated grade, so there’s a bit of history here and there.
    Also, back in the ’70s, I worked with a young Yalie who told me that during the Viet Nam war no student was allowed to fail out least he be drafted into our military.
    When you cause is noble, fraud is such a minor thing.

  • Matt_SE

    Yep, this is all about corruption. Harvard and the Ivies are at the intersection of power and privilege. I suspect they’ve been corrupt for some time, but it’s only become obvious recently as PC has eroded standards of excellence to the point of non-existence. It would be funny except for one thing: Obama.
    Here we have the fruition of decades of academic fraud and political correctness, and just look at all the damage he’s doing to the country.