Beyond the Burg: Princeton University students criticize grading quotas

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February 2, 2010

12:46 AM

Declining grade point averages have students and faculty members at Princeton University questioning the university’s controversial grade quota policy.

Instituted in 2004 to stop grade inflation, Princeton’s grading policy requires that no more than 35 percent of grades issued in all undergraduate courses fall into the A-plus, A or A-minus ranges. Students now wonder whether it discourages equal achievement.

“[It has] too many harmful consequences that outweigh the good intentions behind the system,” the university’s newspaper, The Daily Princetonian, said in an editorial.

From 2003 to 2009, the mean GPA of graduating Princeton students dropped from 3.46 to 3.39. Additionally, in a survey conducted by the university’s student government in 2009, 32 percent of students identified the school’s grading quota policy as their biggest source of dissatisfaction, compared with 25 percent who answered lack of sleep.

“I had complaints from students who said that their professors handed back exams and told them, ‘I wanted to give 10 of you A’s, but because of the policy, I could only give five A’s,’” Connor Diemand-Yauman, Princeton senior and undergraduate student body president, said to The New York Times. “When students hear that, an alarm goes off.”

Many students are now concerned that their declining GPAs will damage their appeal to employers. The number of Princeton graduates receiving jobs in the consulting and financial industries dropped from 249 to 169 between 2008 and 2009.

“The nightmare scenario, if you will, is that you apply with a 3.5 from Princeton and someone just as smart as you applies with a 3.8 from Yale,” Princeton senior Daniel Rauch said to The New York Times.

To curtail these fears, the university’s administration began distributing pamphlets and information describing the school’s grading policy to graduate schools and businesses from around the country.

“What people don’t realize is that grades at different schools always have different meanings, and people at Goldman Sachs or the Marshall Scholarship have tons of experience assessing different G.P.A.’s,” Princeton sophomore Jonathan Sarnoff said to The New York Times. “A Princeton G.P.A. is different from the G.P.A. at The College of New Jersey down the road.”

Many students remain adamant that the policy amounts to excessive academic punishment with few long-term benefits.

“There are tons of really great schools with really smart kids applying for the same jobs,” Princeton junior Jacob Loewenstein said to The New York Times. “People intuitively take a G.P.A. to be a representation of your academic ability and act accordingly. The assumption that a recruiter who is screening applications is going to treat a Princeton student differently based on a letter is naive.”

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