Some students giving Princeton an ‘F’ for grading policy

Princeton University bigwigs are lauding the fact that fewer of their students got “A’s” last year. To them, the falling grades don’t mean that the students are less capable or lazier, but that a year-old policy designed to hold grade inflation in check is working.

In the 2003-04 school year, 46 percent of grades given to undergraduates were “A-plus,” “A” or “A-minus.” Princeton wants to bring that down to 35 percent. It got about halfway there last year, when 41 percent of grades were in the “A” range. Princeton’s efforts are among the most ambitious among elite schools trying to rein in the awarding of uniformly high grades, which some academics see as cheapening grade-point averages. Student leaders fought the policy, worrying that lower grades would keep them out of top graduate schools and that the policy would increase competition for the smaller number of top grades available. Nancy Malkiel, dean of Princeton College, said she did not see any of those problems or any other side-effects with the new policy.

Malkiel said the culture of routinely giving high grades seems to be changing at the Ivy League university consistently ranked among the nation’s best. There will be no changes to the grading policy this year as each department continues to work to meet the quota.

“If each division achieves as much progress in the coming year as they did last year, we will have achieved our goal,” Malkiel said yesterday.