GPA v Degree Class: a “Goldilocks” solution?

As UK looks at GPA, US considers degree class

There has been a debate in UK Higher Education for the past few years about the merits of moving away from traditional degree classifications to a US style Grade Point Average (GPA). A recent piece in the Guardian notes the arguments for moving to GPA in the UK:

Employers say that it is very difficult to differentiate between students. The 2:1 degree classification, for example, fails to distinguish between someone who attained 60%, and another who achieved 69.9%. In a competitive jobs market, employers want more information about the candidates they are considering for jobs. This means knowing whether candidates came at the low or high end of a classification. Moving to a grade point average would give that extra detail, showing students’ average grade to two decimal points as they proceed through their degree.

There are many other positive arguments too and a group of universities is currently involved in trialling the approach alongside current models.
grads
It is more than a little surprising therefore to see an argument about moving the other way.  A piece in The Atlantic by Heidi Tworek is quoted by EAB and looks at the merits of moving from GPA to UK-style degree classification in order to address grade inflation. The so-called “Goldilocks” solution:

Other schools have gone to the opposite extreme. Bennington College and Reed College, along with eight others, have abolished grades altogether. Tworek argues that the best solution is somewhere between the existing models—a “Goldilocks” solution that bridges the extremes. And she thinks it might be found already at universities in England. In the United Kingdom, students receive one of only three marks: first, second, or third. Second is by far the most common grade; 76% of students graduate with a second-designated degree. Only the truly exceptional students—about 19%—receive a first-class degree. The system carries several benefits, argues Tworek. Employers do not look down on second-marked degrees, generally accepting it as a mark of quality. Furthermore, the simpler system “removes the narcissism inherent in minor differences,” she writes. Finally, the system still distinguishes degrees just enough to give students, teachers, and employers a sense of the student’s performance.

Similar arguments are therefore deployed in both cases with proponents suggesting that employers will like the results better, grade inflation will be challenged and differentiation between students enhanced. So, GPA or degree classification, which way will it go?

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Firsts and fees, plagiarism and pay hikes (and the rest)

No dumbing down here – is this the most comprehensive HE piece ever?

Daily Mail online has a terrific piece which manages to conflate a host of different higher education issues within a single kick ass column. On the back of recent HESA data which shows an increase in the number of students achieving first and upper second class degrees the article moves on to plagiarism, league table corruption, commercialisation (not clear if good or bad), the optionality of HEAR (bad?), an ‘expert’ view of classifications, coercion of external examiners, VC pay increases and fee rises in the context of declining HE funding. Unbelievable? Perhaps it would be fairer to let the piece speak for itself:

The number of students awarded first-class degrees has more than doubled over the last decade.

A record one in six graduates obtained the top qualification last year, prompting fresh concerns about grade inflation and the value of degrees.

One expert says that degree classifications are now ‘almost meaningless’.

The trend has fuelled demands for a major overhaul of the system, with the introduction of a ‘starred first’ degree for the brightest graduates.

According to figures released yesterday by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), 53,215 graduates gained firsts in 2010/11 compared with 23,700 in 2000/01.

A decade ago, nine per cent of graduates gained the top classification. By 2010/11 the proportion getting firsts had risen to 15.5 per cent.

HESA also provided detailed data covering the period between 2006/7 and 2010/11, when there was a 45 per cent increase in the number of students gaining firsts.

A feast of higher education comments

Sixty-six per cent of degrees obtained by women were firsts or 2.1s in 2010/11 compared with 61 per cent of those achieved  by males.

High scores: More students are graduating and with better grades than in the past, despite accusations of commercialism and anti-intellectualism

Demands for reform of degree classification have increased over recent years amid claims that some lecturers turn a blind eye to plagiarism to help their institutions climb official league tables.

University whistle-blowers have also alleged that external examiners have been ‘leaned on’ to boost grades.

Universities have been asked to adopt a new graduate ‘report card’, providing a detailed breakdown of students’ academic achievements plus information about extra-curricular activities. However, they cannot be forced to.

Professor Alan Smithers, of Buckingham University, said: ‘The inflation in degree classes is rendering them almost meaningless.

‘Employers have to look at A-level results and the university at which the degree is being obtained.’

The heads of elite universities are raking in average pay packages of almost £318,000 ahead of the tripling of tuition fees.

Many vice chancellors are enjoying salary rises when higher education has seen its funding slashed and students are being forced to pay up to £9,000 a year in fees.

A veritable smorgasbord of entertaining higher education observations. All in one short piece. Truly the Mail is spoiling us. We may never see the like again.