Unbiased Analysis of Today's Healthcare Issues

The Easy ‘A’

Written By: Jason Shafrin - Aug• 17•06

As a teacher’s assistant at UCSD, I often see undergraduate students selecting courses based on how easy the professor grades rather than on the amount of knowledge they will be able to glean from the course.  Why is this?  Arnold Kling gives a four main reasons in his “College Customers v. Suppliers” post on the Econlog website:

  1. The consumers are basically right. Most courses are not really worth taking for most students, so the easy A is the best choice. 
  2. The course that offers the easy A still gives the student the option to learn something, but the course that requires learning does not give the student the option to earn an easy A. So the option value is always with the coures that offers the easy A.
  3. Consumers are myopic, and their preference for an easy A is irrational. (This is the view that many professors hold implicitly.)
  4. Grades are measurable, and real learning is not. Consumers think grades are more important than they really are, because what is measured and reported is more salient than what is unmeasured.

Is there a solution?  Kling suggests external examinations:

“I should note that one potential solution to a competitive race-to-the-bottom in terms of rigor would be to have external examinations. When I was a student at Swarthmore in the Honors program, our exams were written and graded by professors from outside the college…With the exam exogenous, my grade-motivated students would want my course to be rigorous rather than easy.”

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  1. jerry says:

    The alternative extreme is taking courses out of sheer curiosity, without concern for gettng an A, but there isn’t much support for this approach out there. Someone who works at getting As gets into USCD or Harvard, then they need easy courses and grade inflation to feed their addiction and satisfy whoever is their next employer.

    Corporations also have quite a devotion to grades and GPAs, and HR departments really have neither the time nor the experience to judge potential employees in any other effective way. An A is as easy to judge as a Harvard or UCSD degree, it’s just the kind of shallow branding that people like to use to make decisions.

    I am also disillusioned enough to know that pleasing people is also very important in academic success, so not only are the students looking for an easy A, and the employers asking for those As, but the academics tend to take their As (and their opinions) quite seriously.