Factors related to the likelihood of grade inflation at community colleges

WCU Author/Contributor (non-WCU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Steven Talmadge Heulett (Creator)
Western Carolina University (WCU )
Web Site: http://library.wcu.edu/
Meagan Karvonen

Abstract: A number of studies have documented a trend of higher grades awarded by postsecondary institutions in both the United States and Canada over the last two decades. Grade inflation in higher education is a potentially costly problem for a variety of reasons, but little empirical research about the causes of grade inflation has been conducted. This study investigated multiple potential factors related to the likelihood of grade inflation by faculty members at community colleges. These factors included perceptions of student evaluations of teaching (SETs), perceptions of job security, perceptions of student complaints, experience with grading practices, perceptions of student nuisance, and instructors’ empathy with students. Additionally, the possibility that factors related to the likelihood of grade inflation influence adjunct and full-time instructors differently was tested. An electronically-distributed survey was employed to measure the perspectives of 336 instructors at seven community colleges in three states. Complex models did not predict likelihood of grade inflation, but differences were found between some factors for instructors in high and low likelihood of grade inflation groups. Instructors in the low likelihood group perceived higher levels of both student complaints and student nuisance than instructors in the high likelihood group. Faculty status was found to affect the influence of perceptions of student evaluations of teaching (SETs), perceptions of job security, perceptions of student complaints, and experience with grading practices on likelihood of grade inflation. The results of this study suggest that additional research should elucidate the potential connections between instructors’ perceptions of student nuisance and student complaints and the phenomenon of grade inflation. Furthermore, additional work is needed to determine what effects SETs have on instructors’ careers and the perceptions of instructors regarding those effects. The results of this study potentially inform the practice of using faculty professional development to educate instructors about the process of grading. Specifically, institutions should explicitly define the intended functions of grades prior to establishing a system for determining grades. These institutions should also provide guidance to instructors so that all agents in the grading process are using these symbols of student performance in a consistent manner. Faculty should engage in the conversation about appropriate functions of grades and more consistent methods for determining grades. Finally, administrators should exercise caution in the interpretation of feedback from students in the forms of student evaluations of teaching and student complaints, particularly as used in the supervision of adjunct instructors.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2013
adjunct faculty, grade inflation, grading practices, job security, nuisance, student evaluations
Community college students -- Rating of -- United States -- Case studies
Community college teachers -- United States -- Attitudes -- Case studies

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