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Grade Inflation, Ethics, And Engineering Education

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2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Academic Standards and Academic Issues

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.645.1 - 9.645.21



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Paper Authors

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Brian Manhire

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2560

Grade Inflation, Ethics and Engineering Education

Brian Manhire Ohio University


An overview of grade inflation in American higher education is presented and its ethical implica- tions are examined and found to be troubling. A synopsis of the ethical ethos of engineering is provided and an account is given of corresponding expectations regarding ethics instruction in engineering education. Because it is unethical, grade inflation is contrary to the ideals and goals of engineering education; and recommendations are proffered accordingly.

I. Grade Inflation in American Higher Education

Grade inflation is very much like price inflation which, is the general rise in the average price of a basket of goods. Price inflation is measured by taking the same physical quantity of items and measuring the price of those goods periodically. Because the physical items being measured do not change, an increase in prices will indicate inflation, which affects monetary value only. Grade inflation exists when the value of grade point averages increases with no change in the real physi- cal attributes of what the grades are measuring. In other words, grade inflation re- fers to an overall rise in grades with no commensurate increase in quality of courses or academic achievement.1

Grade inflation is ubiquitous in American higher education.2-3 Its contemporary causes (i.e., since the 1960s) are reported to be the Vietnam War,4-5 and “…white professors, imbibing the spirit of affirmative action….”6* Peter Sacks8 attributes its continuation to the increasing influence of postmodernism9-17 on American society. Professor Valen E. Johnson corroborates this in his re- cently published book about grade inflation, where he states that postmodernist faculty are “much less likely to assign poor grades.”18 There is considerable literature against postmodernism,† which is generally associated with the humanities (Figure 1). Other grade-inflation causes prof- fered include the growing consumer mentality of students,19 the corporate-management style leadership culture20 pervasive in higher education nowadays with its attendant commercializa- tion21-22 of higher education23 (including for example the evaluation of teaching by students as customers/consumers of higher education24-25), and the misperception that over-grading enhances student self-esteem.6, 22, 26

* Also see Riesman7 regarding this impetus. † For example, see the references cited in Manhire.27

Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2004, American Society for Engineering Education

Manhire, B. (2004, June), Grade Inflation, Ethics, And Engineering Education Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--13484

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