Recent Instances

In recent years, Princeton University has earned itself a reputation for awarding some of the highest average marks among the top American universities. In an attempt to combat this grade inflation and reverse this reputation, Princeton began in the fall of 2004 to employ guidelines for grading distributions across departments. Under the new guidelines, departments have been encouraged to re-evaluate and clarify their grading policies. The administration suggests that, averaged over the course of several years in an individual department, A-range grades should constitute 35% of grades in classroom work, and 55% of grades in independent work such as Senior Theses. To date, the administration has not taken steps to strictly enforce these guidelines, instead opting to rely on departments to apply them. Since the policy's inception, A-range grades have declined significantly in Humanities departments, while remaining nearly constant in the Natural Science departments.

Many argue that it places students at a disadvantage when they apply for employment after graduating at professional schools because of the comparatively lower marks on students' transcripts. The student body, for the most part, opposes this system of "grade deflation," but the administration stands by it, saying that other schools will soon follow - despite outright statements from other schools that say they have no plans to implement such policies.

On the other hand, UC Berkeley has gained a widespread reputation for harsh grading policies. In most science and engineering disciplines, departmental standards widely proscribe that no more than 25% of the students in any given class are awarded A grades, and that the class GPA is in the range of 2.7 to 2.9 out of a maximum of 4.0 grade points.

Other colleges such as Cornell University and the University of Chicago are also known for their harsh grading practices. However, it appears that many schools known for harsh grading practices actually have lax grading; for example, the average GPA at University of Chicago in 1996 was 3.26.