Iannelli: Lazy graders breed lazy work habits

Iannelli argues that collegiate grade inflation is slowly destroying students’s work habits.

Jerry Iannelli

Jerry IannelliNone of us are perfect, and we really need to start getting graded like it.

Case in point: A good friend of mine kindly informed me recently that he was failing a class, which entirely astounded me given today’s collegiate climate. Excluding science-based majors, failing a social science course at Temple generally requires nothing short of lighting every assignment on fire with a blowtorch, flipping the same classmate’s desk over on alternating Tuesdays and showing up to class wearing nothing but heart-print boxers and a fuzzy Russian hat. I have literally no clue what class guidelines he blatantly ignored to earn himself an F, but they must have been egregious. His story somehow ended on a simultaneously cheerful and depressing note.

“I’m allowed to re-do all of my assignments, so if I work for the next 24 hours straight, I can get a B for the year.”

As his friend, I am happy for him. He will remain in school and eligible for loans and scholarships. In contrast, as a fellow human being in perpetual competition with him for jobs, food and money, I am furious. One day of work after four months of failure will grant him an above-average grade for the entire semester, and his professor seems either entirely unaware that this is the case or simply does not care.

Through three years at Temple, I can guarantee that his situation is far from out of the ordinary, and, as an honors student who cares a great deal about his own future career and success, I find the sheer lack of creativity and effort it takes to be a B-student in college embarrassing.

Collegiate grade inflation is rampant, and has spiraled out of control in the recent decades. According to a 2011 New York Times piece on the rise in grade point average at American universities, titled, “A History of College Grade Inflation,” the amount of A’s given to college students has steadily risen from roughly 26 percent of all grades in 1970, to 43 percent of the total grades handed out to college kids in 2008. The piece cites a study by experts Stuart Rojstaczer and Christopher Healy. I will cede that, due to our generation’s access to free information, we may be the most informed generation of college kids to ever walk the planet. But half of us still are not perfect students. In fact, 30 percent of students likely weren’t in 1970, either.

Another alarming trend: Due to less regulation and more competition for tuition, grades have been significantly inflated at private institutions across the U.S. Simply put, if you currently attend a public university, employers may rank you as a poor student by no fault of your own. College professors are eager to hand out A’s and B’s. Generations of overly content, distinguished students reflect well on a professor’s own résumé and teaching style, and granting a fairly disgruntled student an undeservingly high grade can bring a professor good will in the form of positive student evaluations and online ratings websites. While some professors blatantly do not care about the success of their pupils and may give entire swaths of poor students B’s in order to avoid the effort it takes to critique them, I would argue that most teachers merely find it harmless to give a student some leeway for putting the effort forth to complete an assignment in the first place.

This is helping no one succeed, and it’s where modern professors are getting us all into trouble. Lackadaisical grading policies do not breed creativity — laziness instead only begets more laziness.  We “Millennials” have more distractions in our lives than ever before, be they cell phones with built-in Netflix accounts or on-demand reality television about the Amish. As such, learning to both budget one’s time and devote one’s entire attention to an important task at hand become invaluable skills that absolutely must be developed during the collegiate years, or failure is certain once we enter the “real” world. Giving me an A on an essay merely because you enjoyed my use of the word “troglodyte” teaches me nothing but how to cut corners.

For example, it took me three entire years of college before a professor actually read one of my essay bibliographies and informed me that I’d been doing them wrong. She deducted points from my grade — as she should have — and kindly informed me how to fix them.

I wasn’t angry until I realized that nobody had been paying attention until then.

Jerry Iannelli can be reached at gerald.iannelli@temple.edu or on Twitter @jerryiannelli.

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