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Grade inflation is popular among Brown undergraduates

Robinson Hall - Brown University
Photo: “Robinson Hall - Brown University” by Farragutful, licensed under CC 4.0

By Omri Bergner-Phillips

“I like that Brown doesn’t really value grades,” said one first-year who took BOP’s October 2022 poll.

Inflation has reached its highest clip since the 1980s in the U.S. over the past year. This economic phenomenon, though, is not new for Brown students looking at their grades: Students are finishing semesters with more As than ever, a trend that dates back at least two decades, The Brown Daily Herald reported.

Unlike monetary inflation, though, grade inflation is popular among Brown students. The Brown Opinion Project and Brown Daily Herald joint October 2022 poll found that nearly half of Brown undergraduates surveyed (49.16%) either somewhat or strongly disagreed that the University should reduce grade inflation.

Students who were against reducing grade inflation offered a variety of justifications for preferring higher grades.

One sophomore who took the poll cited increased time for non-academic activities as a positive of grade inflation.

“I benefit from grade inflation because I’ll often put extracurriculars or social stuff over my classwork, and I think that that’s a big part of the college experience,” they said. “So I do think grade inflation allows us to be more social.”

Another sophomore who took the poll said they felt similarly: “Because of grade inflation I can take a step back and do stuff that matters rather than just sticking my head in a book.”

Other students, such as one first-year who took the poll, said they viewed grade inflation as more of a philosophical issue. “The principle of being at a school like Brown … is that we are passionate about learning, we have many different interests,” they said. “I think that that should be the priority, not trying to get a good grade.”

Limiting stress from coursework also contributed to pro-inflation stances for one first-year student who took the poll.

“I like that Brown doesn’t really value grades,” they said. “If you have a system where good grades are really difficult to achieve, then that demotivates students from taking hard courses.”

“I think [grade inflation] would take the stress off the grades specifically just to enhance the learning experience,” another first-year student who took the poll speculated.

Grade inflation is well-liked throughout the student body, but it has higher approval with first-years and sophomores. Just 10% and 16% of first-years and sophomores, respectively, either somewhat or strongly agreed that Brown should decrease grade inflation. Older students were more likely to express concern about grade inflation: 25% of seniors and 20% of juniors either somewhat or strongly agreed that Brown should act to quell grade inflation.

“I think the standards [for classwork] are pretty low,” one senior who took the poll said, attributing the issue to grade inflation.

“The grading system doesn’t fully capture peoples’ work because of grade inflation,” another senior who took the poll added.

But some students viewed the reduction in work that increased grades provide as a benefit. “I love grade inflation. I don’t want to do work, I worked my butt off in high school!” a sophomore who took the poll noted. “At the end of the day I know that any hard work will reflect in my grade.”

A second-year student who took the poll and concentrates in physical sciences added that it helps him in his concentration: “As an engineer, it's dope. I'll take it.”

One sophomore who took the poll colorfully summarized the positive impacts of grade inflation: “We all [benefit]. It's a public service. That’s the one thing keeping me sane right now.”

Note: All quoted poll-takers remain anonymous to maintain the integrity of Brown Opinion Project surveys. Brown Opinion Project conducted its October 2022 poll from October 11-23, collecting 1091 total responses from Brown undergraduate students. The margin of error is 3.02% with 95% confidence.


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