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.

Iowahawk on the Harvard factor

The language is blue, but don’t let that stop you.  Read it.  Read it all.

My favorite line, incidentally, is this one:

Despite her underprivileged background Professor Kagan rose to the challenge and graduated magna cum laude, an honor reserved for the top 89% of Harvard Law alumni.

Right there is one of the dirty little secrets of the America’s top private universities back in the 1980s, when Elena Kagan (and Barack Obama) attended.  I don’t know if it’s true know, but I know it was true then.

It was in 1988 that a Stanford math professor explained to me how the system worked back then:

People paid a whole lot to get their little darlings into Stanford (or Harvard, or Yale, or whatever other prestigious school you can think of).  And coming in, there was no doubt but that their little darlings were the best of the best back at the hometown prep schools and high schools.

Each of those incoming students suddenly found himself in a Garrison Keillor situation, with all “all of the kids . . . above average.”  Once they were all packed into that little brilliant pond together, logic would dictate that a bell curve would come into play, with some of those above average kids showing academic skills ahead of or, sadly, behind the pack.

It turned out, though, that Mummy and Daddy got upset when their darling, who was class valedictorian at her fancy New York prep school, proved to be less capable than her college classmates.  After all, why would Mummy and Daddy pay Stanford $50,000 a year so that their baby could bring home a C or, worse, fail?  The answer was for the school to say that, because everyone was brilliant, regardless of actual classroom performance, everyone should therefore get a good grade.  Or failing that, students who could not possibly satisfy even the minimal grade requirement for a given class should be asked, quite politely, to leave that class, with no record and no repercussions. Net result:  Students happy, parents happy, school happy.  Future employers . . . well, not so happy.

What the Stanford professor told me wasn’t anomalous.  When I was a law student down in Texas, also in the 1980s, I knew a lot of employers, employers at big, fancy, well-paying Texas firms, who wouldn’t hire Boalt grads.  They still hired Harvard grads, because they couldn’t make themselves back away from the cachet (which is a big deal in Texas), but they drew the line at Boalt.  They told me that Boalt’s grading system was so “student friendly,” they had no idea if they were getting someone who was solidly in the middle of the bell curve, or the kid who couldn’t be bothered to show up to any classes.  Texas, by the way, graded on a very strict bell curve.

So read and enjoy Iowahawk but know that, despite the tongue in cheek, every word of it is true!