Princeton brings back the B

Princeton is trying to get professors to deflate grades.

Since Princeton took the lead among Ivy League schools to formally adopt a grade-deflation policy three years ago — limiting A’s to an average 35% across departments — students say the pressure to score the scarcer A has intensified. Students say they now eye competitive classmates warily and shy away from classes perceived as difficult.

. . . There is no quota in individual courses, despite what students think, says Dean of the College Nancy Malkiel. Still, the policy has made an A slightly more elusive. In the first two years, A’s, (A-plus, A, A-minus), accounted for 41% of undergrad grades, down from 47% the two previous years.

Other Ivy League schools are watching Princeton with interest, but not emulating its policy.

At Cornell, courses in which A is the median grade have grown in popularity since the university started to post course averages online.

About Joanne


  1. Easy way to remedy kids taking soft classes for easy “A’s” would be to institute a new ranking where your grade is compared to the mean grade in the class. Thus a ‘A’ in a course where 80% of your classmates got ‘A’ would be worth less than an ‘A’ where only 50% scored an ‘A’.

  2. 2 words: Keller plan!

  3. Catherine Johnson,

    I’ve seen you mention the Keller plan before, but when I look it up, it seems like it makes the course essentially independent study with quizzes. Sure, students can re-take until mastery or an A, but no one really seems to be teaching.

    The descriptions of it make it sound like something I would hate because I love a good lecture and discussion class and although I don’t mind tests and quizzes, I would really miss a format in which the instructor explicitly teaches.

    What am I missing about the Keller plan?

  4. BUt who really cares? Do grad schools look at the grades or at the test scores and recommnedations? Employers might be dazzled by a 4.0, but do they demand transcripts? Seems like a feel-good exercise to justify the college fees.

  5. Grad schools do look at grades; they are part of the package that the grad admissions committees consider. Med schools in particular look at undergraduate grades in an intense way. As for employers: none that I’ve encountered have asked for transcripts.

    As a professor who has taught at a highly selective research 1 university and at a much less selective state school, I can say that there are classes where 50% truly deserve an A because 50% have earned it. It’s usually true, however, that 25% deserve it more because they have a higher A than the others.

  6. An addendum re: employers: that is, employers outside the academic world haven’t asked for transcripts. All my potential academic employers have.

  7. I remember reading somewhere that something like 80% of people who graduate from Harvard, graduate “With Honors”. Talk about making the meaningful meaningless.