Journal of Economic Perspectives: Vol. 23 No. 3 (Summer 2009)


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Grade Information and Grade Inflation: The Cornell Experiment

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Bar, Talia, Vrinda Kadiyali, and Asaf Zussman. 2009. "Grade Information and Grade Inflation: The Cornell Experiment." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 23(3): 93-108.

DOI: 10.1257/jep.23.3.93


Grade inflation and high grade levels have been subjects of concern and public debate in recent decades. In the mid-1990s, Cornell University's Faculty Senate had a number of discussions about grade inflation and what might be done about it. In April 1996, the Faculty Senate voted to adopt a new grade reporting policy which had two parts: 1) the publication of course median grades on the Internet; and 2) the reporting of course median grades in students' transcripts. The policy change followed the determination of a university committee that "it is desirable for Cornell University to provide more information to the reader of a transcript and produce more meaningful letter grades." It was hoped that "More accurate recognition of performance may encourage students to take courses in which the median grade is relatively low." The median grade policy has remained to date only partially implemented: median grades have been reported online since 1998 but do not yet appear in transcripts. We evaluate the effect of the implemented policy on patterns of course choice and grade inflation. Specifically, we test two related hypotheses: First, all else being equal, the availability of online grade information will lead to increased enrollment into leniently graded courses. Second, high-ability students will be less attracted to the leniently graded courses than their peers. Building on these results we perform an exercise that identifies the extent to which the change in student behavior resulted in an increase in the university-wide mean grade.

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Bar, Talia (Cornell U)
Kadiyali, Vrinda (Cornell U)
Zussman, Asaf (Hebrew U Jerusalem)

JEL Classifications

I23: Higher Education and Research Institutions


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