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Walter Williams
Walter E. Williams
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Fraud in Academia


Soon college students will come home and present parents with their grades. To avoid delusion, parents should do some serious discounting because of rampant grade inflation. If grade inflation continues, a college bachelor's degree will have just as much credibility as a high school diploma.

Writing for the National Association of Scholars, Professor Thomas C. Reeves documents what is no less than academic fraud in his article "The Happy Classroom: Grade Inflation Works." From 1991 to 2007, in public institutions, the average grade point average (GPA) rose, on a four-point scale, from 2.93 to 3.11. In private schools, the average GPA climbed from 3.09 to 3.30. Put within a historical perspective, in the 1930s, the average GPA was 2.35 (about a C-plus); whereby now it's a B-plus.

Academic fraud is rife at many of the nation's most prestigious and costliest universities. At Brown University, two-thirds of all letter grades given are A's. At Harvard, 50 percent of all grades were either A or A- (up from 22 percent in 1966); 91 percent of seniors graduated with honors. The Boston Globe called Harvard's grading practices "the laughing stock of the Ivy League." Eighty percent of the grades given at the University of Illinois are A's and B's. Fifty percent of students at Columbia University are on the Dean's list. At Stanford University, where F grades used to be banned, only 6 percent of student grades were as low as a C.

Some college administrators will tell us that the higher grades merely reflect higher-quality students. Balderdash! SAT scores have been in decline for four decades and at least a third of entering freshmen must enroll in a remedial course either in math, writing or reading, which indicates academic fraud at the high school level. A recent survey of more than 30,000 first-year students revealed that nearly half spent more hours drinking than study. Another survey found that a third of students expected B's just for attending class, and 40 percent said they deserved a B for completing the assigned reading.

Last year, the Delaware-based Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) published results of their national survey titled "Our Fading Heritage: Americans Fail a Basic Test on Their History and Institutions." The survey questions were not rocket science.

Only 21 percent of survey respondents knew that the phrase "government of the people, by the people, for the people" comes from President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. Almost 40 percent incorrectly believe the Constitution gives the president the power to declare war. Only 27 percent knew that the Bill of Rights expressly prohibits establishing an official religion for the United States. Remarkably, close to 25 percent of Americans believe that Congress shares its foreign policy powers with the United Nations. Other questions asked included: "Who is the commander-in-chief of the U S. military?" "Name two countries that were our enemies during World War II." "Under our Constitution, some powers belong to the federal government. What is one power of the federal government?" Of the 2,508 nationwide sample of Americans taking ISI's civic literacy test, 71 percent failed; the average score on the test was 49 percent.

Possessing a college degree often does not mean much in terms of basic skills. According to a 2006 Pew Charitable Trusts study, 50 percent of college seniors failed a test that required them to interpret a table about exercise and blood pressure, understand the arguments of newspaper editorials, and compare credit card offers. About 20 percent of college seniors did not have the quantitative skills to estimate if their car had enough gas to get to the gas station. According a recent National Assessment of Adult Literacy, the percentage of college graduates proficient in prose literacy has declined from 40 percent to 31 percent within the past decade. Employers report that many college graduates lack the basic skills of critical thinking, writing and problem-solving.

The bottom line: To approach truth in grading, parents and employers should lower the average student's grade by one letter, and interpret a C grade as an F.

Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. To find out more about Walter E. Williams and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



3 Comments | Post Comment
You hit the nail on the head with this one.What is even worse, is the attitude these kids have when they come out of college. The world owes them nothing and they are qualified to do nothing yet, they think $70,000.00 per year is a fair wage for them. The fault lies with Mom & Dad and the elementary school teachers. Mom & Dad turn their kids over to the school System ,trustenly , to teach; AND raise apperently. Children are still chilldren as long as they live under your roof. You are the provider,protector and Teacher. You are likewise the disciplinarian. What the hell is disciplin??Therein lies the secret. Spare the rod ,spoil the child. Spank juniors butt and they,ll put your buttt in jail for abuse or assault. You cannot instill the proper attitude without some disciplne being used sparinly and wisely. The world owes th;ese kids nothing except a fair chance at getting a job based upon their ability ,attitude and personality. The grades they made in school only means they attended most of the classes. It sure as hell doesn't mean they know anything about anything. Thank you for allowing me to vent on this but you started me thinking, which is a good thing at 80 years of age. What's going to happen when the world is totally in their hands??
Bill Harding
Comment: #1
Posted by: bill harding
Wed May 6, 2009 6:46 AM
I would like to ask about this statement from your article: "At Brown University, two-thirds of all letter grades given are A's. At Harvard, 50 percent of all grades were either A or A- " Were those undergraduate grades? If the statistics included grades of students in masters and doctorial programs, it is easy to understand so many high grades. Graduate students typically make As or Bs. If all of the grades were undergraduate grades, then it sure does seem to be an unusually high number of As.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Paul M. Petkovsek
Wed May 6, 2009 12:05 PM
Your opinion in the Oakland Press on May 4, 2009 was right on the money. We have lost our moral values. It explains why my granddaughter does not know how to apologize when she does something wrong and over the top. She has been turned against her father (my son) by her mother who never apologized for her bad behavior. My granddaughter used foul language in her text messages to her father and we had to stop communicating with her. We are devastated because she has gone way past the boundaries that exist between a child and an adult. And so you hit upon a timely topic and it needs to be talked about much more. Its scary to think that she does not know any better.
Comment: #3
Posted by:
Thu May 7, 2009 12:47 PM
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