Journal of Economic Perspectives: Vol. 28 No. 3 (Summer 2014)


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The Effects of an Anti-grade-Inflation Policy at Wellesley College

Article Citation

Butcher, Kristin F., Patrick J. McEwan, and Akila Weerapana. 2014. "The Effects of an Anti-grade-Inflation Policy at Wellesley College." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 28(3): 189-204.

DOI: 10.1257/jep.28.3.189


Average grades in colleges and universities have risen markedly since the 1960s. Critics express concern that grade inflation erodes incentives for students to learn; gives students, employers, and graduate schools poor information on absolute and relative abilities; and reflects the quid pro quo of grades for better student evaluations of professors. This paper evaluates an anti-grade-inflation policy that capped most course averages at a B+. The cap was biding for high-grading departments (in the humanities and social sciences) and was not binding for low-grading departments (in economics and sciences), facilitating a difference-in-differences analysis. Professors complied with the policy by reducing compression at the top of the grade distribution. It had little effect on receipt of top honors, but affected receipt of magna cum laude. In departments affected by the cap, the policy expanded racial gaps in grades, reduced enrollments and majors, and lowered student ratings of professors.

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Butcher, Kristin F. (Wellesley College)
McEwan, Patrick J. (Wellesley College)
Weerapana, Akila (Wellesley College)

JEL Classifications

A22: Economic Education and Teaching of Economics: Undergraduate
I23: Higher Education; Research Institutions


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