Faculty Committee Advises Princeton University To Eliminate 'Grade Deflation' Policy

A person walks from Nassau Hall at Princeton University in Princeton, N.J., Monday, Dec. 9, 2013. The Ivy League school has b
A person walks from Nassau Hall at Princeton University in Princeton, N.J., Monday, Dec. 9, 2013. The Ivy League school has begun vaccinating nearly 6,000 students to try to stop an outbreak of type B meningitis in an unusual federal government-endorsed administration of a drug not generally approved for use in the United States. Seven students and one prospective student who was visiting campus have been stricken by potentially life-threatening type B meningococcal disease since March. None of the cases has been fatal. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

Princeton University may soon end a policy that limited how many A's could be distributed to students.

A faculty committee appointed by University President Christopher Eisgruber to review the school's grading policies announced this week that Princeton's grading guidelines need to be changed, according to

The current policy advises that A's cannot account for more than 35 percent of the grades given in undergraduate courses. Although the intention of the grading system was "to provide fair and consistent standards across the University," and to combat grade inflation, the faculty committee found that limiting the amount of A's increases student stress.

The report said those 35 percent caps "are too often misinterpreted as quotas," as the New York Times notes.

As part of its reviewing process, the committee surveyed students. Here are some of the grievances students expressed about Princeton's grading policy:

I received a 91 on a midterm exam in a [particular department] course this past fall (my concentration), but the 91 was scratched out and replaced with an 88. When I asked my professor why he reduced by score, he told me that normally the paper would be an A-, but due to grade deflation, he was forced to lower several students' grades to a B+.

I have experience[d] multiple negative effects from the grading policy. Because of grade deflation it has been extremely difficult to find any kind of collaborative environment in any department and class I have taken at Princeton. Often even good friends of mine would refuse to explain simple concepts that I might have not understood in class for fear that I would do better than them. I have also heard from others about students actively sabotaging other students' grades by giving them the wrong notes or telling them wrong information. Classes here often feel like shark tanks. If I had known about this I very probably would have not attended Princeton despite it being a wonderful university otherwise.

I had to drop being Pre-Med here because the grades I was getting in the sceinces were too low. I was getting low grades not because I didn't understand the material, but because the curve was getting messed up by kids who were very advanced in chemistry and taking Intro to Chem and getting 100's on the exams. Now my parents have to help me pay for a post-bac program so that I can take the sciences elsewhere post-graduation because Princeton didn't allow me to take the necessary next step to realizing my dream by giving me unfair grades in the sciences...

However, some students remain in favor of Princeton's lack of grade inflation:

I think the rigorous standards (either natural to Princeton or caused by the grade deflation policy) have definitely pushed me harder to do better work, especially in the classes I enjoy. I think one of the unmentioned effects is the clarification I feel because of grade deflation. In some classes, I'll feel very stressed trying to produce quality of work, but in others, I enjoy putting the extra time/effort in and want to be challenged. Unsurprisingly, this helped me figure out which departments and disciplines I enjoy, and which I would rather avoid.

The grading policy provides students (myself included) with an easy excuse anytime we receive grades that we don't feel reflect our work.

According to the committee's report, "the best reasons to change Princeton’s grading policy have more to do with psychological factors and campus atmosphere" than with improving students' post-graduate opportunities. In order to reshape Princeton's academic culture, the committee recommended removing the numerical targets from the grading policy, charging departments with developing their own grading standards and dissolving the Committee on Grading.

For details on each recommendation, see the full report here.