First, I feel the need to defend Brown here. Brown is NOT grade inflated compared to most colleges. You cannot make a determination of grade inflation there by citing the median gpa. You can take as many courses you want on a S/NC (satisfactory/ no credit) basis. So, many students take courses outside their majors S/NC. Other students, e.g, a lot of aspiring actors, take almost all their courses S/NC because all they want is the degree. So, even if it's true that 60% of grades are As--I don't know if it is--that's because a fair number of students in most classes are taking the courses S/NC. The bottom third of the class probably isn't taking the course for a grade.
The end result of this is that many Brown students take REAL classes in subjects outside of their major. They don't avoid the tough courses because they are worried about the impact of a lower grade on their chances of admission to law or med school. So, instead of taking "Clapping for Credit," "Rocks for Jocks," "Think Green," "How to Plug in Your Computer" and other "guts" that are frequently used to fill distribution requirements at other colleges or to inflate gpa's, they take REAL courses along side people who are majoring in the subject. They just don't take them for grades.
Now, many other colleges CLAIM that you can take a limited number of courses pass/fail and that this should satisfy students who do want to take the tough courses outside their fields of interest. But in many cases, offering the course P/F is at the discretion of the prof. STEM profs are notoriously unwilling to offer courses on this basis. So, the kids at top colleges who got 5s on every math and science AP they took but who don't want to compete with the pre-meds can NOT take REAL science courses unless they are willing to take them for grades. So, they take the "guts" instead.
At some of the colleges, there are additional incentives to avoid P/F. It can mean, for example, destroying your chances of making Phi Beta Kappa--though only those "in the know" are aware of that. P/Fs count against you in the selections process. So, the kid who takes clapping for credit and gets an A will make it and the humanities major who takes organic chem on a P/F basis won't.
We've created a generation of students whose approach to education is to "game" the system to get the highest GPAs with the least amount of work possible. Unfortunately, the future physicians and lawyers--or at least those who think they want to go in those directions when they are in college--are the worst offenders.
In any event, I want to defend Brown here because I think it's system makes a lot of sense. I think we ought to be encouraging kids to take classes outside of their comfort zones. The fixation on GPAs at many colleges, especially by students who plan to apply to med and law schools discourages that. Brown's S/NC policy encourages its students to explore new and/or difficult subjects and I think that's a good thing.
It's meaningless to compare the median GPA at Brown, where the typical student probably takes about 8 courses S/NC (one a semester) with those at schools where students take every class for a grade. Of course Brown will have higher median GPAs. It doesn't mean that it's easier to get an A at Brown.
Last edited by jonri; 08-04-2011 at 02:38 PM.