Grade inflation is making students lazy
College students study a lot less now than in the 1960s, yet they get better grades.
For students, these trends must seem like marvelous developments. But they raise questions about both declining rigor and potential grade inflation in higher education.
In a forthcoming study in the journal Economic Inquiry, economist Philip Babcock finds the trends linked. As Babcock related in an e-mail, when the instructor "chooses to grade more strictly, students put in a lot more effort." And when the professor gives easy A's, students expend less effort.
The finding relates to an earlier study, cited in a previous post here, showing that professors who get high ratings from their students tend to teach those students less. (The minimal effort required in those classes apparently fuels the professor's popularity.)
Babcock, an economist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, reviewed two sets of research literature that document crisscrossing trends.
On the one hand, average grades have been rising across all categories of post-secondary institutions. Take Harvard: The share of students receiving A's there rose from less than one-third in 1985 to about half in 2001.
Would that those students were getting smarter.
But college students are, in fact, getting lazier. "Aggregate time spent studying by full-time college students declined from about 24 hours per week in 1961 to about 14 hours per week in 2004," Babcock writes, citing his own research.
The economist set out to determine whether the trends are linked: Do students study less because they expect higher grades?
Babcock reviewed course evaluations at University of California, San Diego. In those evaluations, taken in mid-course, students described what grade they expected to get. They also told how much time they spent on homework.
Babcock's findings are laid out in a series of charts that make me squint. In essence, Babcock proved his hypothesis.
Students reported studying half as much for a class in which they expected an A than for a course in which they expected a C.
In other words, students are studying less because their professors are grading easier.
Even, perhaps, at Harvard.
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Daniel de Vise
July 22, 2010; 11:52 AM ET
Categories: Pedagogy , Research , Students | Tags: Economic Inquiry study, Philip Babcock, grade inflation, grade inflation and college study time, grade inflation and lazy students, grade inflation study
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