UVa Grade Inflation Has Accelerated Since 2018

Source: University of Virginia Institutional Research and Analysis

In the spring of 1992, the cumulative Grade Point Average (GPA) of University of Virginia undergraduate students was 3.1, according to data maintained by the office of Institutional Research and Analysis. By 2021, the average GPA had soared to 3.6.

Grade inflation is a national phenomenon in U.S. higher education, so there may be nothing unusual about the long-term trend at UVa.

What does stand out in the chart is how grade inflation has accelerated in the past few years. The dot in the graph represents 2018, the year Jim Ryan became president. The average GPA that year was 3.4. Within three years, it shot up to 3.6. Viewing the UVa data in isolation, however, cannot tell us whether that incipient hockey stick is unique to the University or common to higher-ed nationally.

An average of 3.6 implies that at least 60% of all grades are As — and that assumes that the rest are Bs. If we assume that students occasionally are assigned Cs or Ds, the percentage of As is likely even higher. It would be interesting to see the grade distributions. Unfortunately, UVa does not provide that information. Still, based on the data made public, one must wonder, does anyone ever receive a failing grade anymore?

One possibility is that UVa students today are academic super-achievers who meet standards of academic excellence far more consistently than students in decades past. Another possibility is that the standard of academic excellence is eroding — everybody gets a trophy; nobody should feel bad about themselves.

Inquiring minds in the Board of Visitors might wish to know which is the case. And if standards are lower than in the past, what factors are driving the trend?

The Institutional Research and Analysis website provides a breakdown of the data that yields a few meager clues into what is going on.

Grade inflation applies to all the undergraduate schools. The median GPA was highest in the nursing school at 3.8 in 2021. The most rigorous (or least un-rigorous) was Architecture at 3.5.

The engineering school, known as the toughest program in the school when I was there a half century ago, has seen the biggest increase in median GPA — from 2.9 in 1992 to 3.6 in 2021.

Traditionally, women have earned slightly higher grades on average than men. The margin of roughly 0.1 percent hasn’t changed. But the trend line toward higher GPAs for both sexes has moved in lockstep.

UVa does not break down median GPAs by race/ethnicity.

Conclusion: whatever factors are driving grade inflation, they apply across all disciplines, and they apply equally to men and women.

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27 responses to “UVa Grade Inflation Has Accelerated Since 2018”

  1. AlH - Deckplates Avatar
    AlH – Deckplates

    Grade inflation is a real problem, as are other related problems such as Performance Management. For example, in the past a company’s policy to hire their (most) engineering graduates, with a “C” or above. Now they have to move up the quadrants and hire only “B” and above. Formerly, the probability of achievement of an engineer was just not there at the “D” (2.0) and below. Now that could be “C” and below.

    The inflation factors in Performance Management exacerbate the problem, come annual evaluation time. This is directly related to ranking the performance of the professors, Assoc, and others. The “Inflation Factor” is always moving up until…something happens. An example would be a “revised system, such as what the VDOE put into place in 2021, for teachers, and 2022 for Principals. Or a different method in raking, such as a modification of the present system.

    The article points out another fact: “Conclusion: whatever factors are driving grade inflation, they apply across all disciplines, and they apply equally to men and women.” Making an effort to educate the graders of those inflated numbers, would help (probably an incomplete expression) to understand how to deal with the “Halo” factor or “Inflation Factor.”

    Merit or performance should be able to be measured with identifiable gradation relative to achievement. And the graders or evaluators should be trained in doing so. The importance of that training, and periodic review, regardless of the education of the evaluators, is a significant factor in the veracity of the system. It certainly has the same effect in industry and the government.

    I liked the graphs, as they gave meaning to the subj.

  2. James C. Sherlock Avatar
    James C. Sherlock

    GPA rise? It’s guaranteed.

    Todays students can get a 25 page Ph.D. thesis on any customized topic with guaranteed 14-day delivery for $700. A 5-page undergraduate paper for $80. For the undergraduate paper, they will guarantee 3-hour delivery.

    All papers are guaranteed plagarism free because of the use of advanced software to ensure that result. It beats the software to check for plagiarism that the professors use.

    If not completely satisfied (grade of B?), the customer gets a full refund.

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      Are you talking about a 25-page PhD dissertation? My master’s thesis was longer than that.

    2. Not Today Avatar
      Not Today

      Who do you know has earned a PhD with a 25 page paper? A 25 page minimum existed for my master’s thesis as well.

  3. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    Us old farts like to say things were tougher back when… According to this data, that might be true. I wonder what the comparable data at other schools show.

    For example, at Willliam and Mary, a GPA of 3.8 or higher is recognized as summa cum laude; 3.65-3.79, magna cum laude; and 3.5-3.64, cum laude. Under this scale, the “average” UVa graduate would have graduated with honors

  4. Stephen Haner Avatar
    Stephen Haner

    The Gentleman’s C long associated with UVA is now the Gentleman’s A-. Shake off the hangover from the frat party, show up, and get a full A. Pass the test? A+. I suspect the problem is worse in the College of Arts and Crafts. The 3.1 thirty years ago was already shameless grade inflation.

    1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
      Eric the half a troll

      2-0 and go!! Will any of it matter 6 months after they get their first job…?

      1. Stephen Haner Avatar
        Stephen Haner

        No employer ever sought out my transcript.

        1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
          Eric the half a troll

          Total aside (hope it doesn’t get axed): I was hiring recently and our HR rep approached me and said “are you aware that this candidate received a D in one of his courses?” I told them it is a good thing they haven’t looked at my college grades… lol… I hired the candidate – exemplary employee…

  5. Not Today Avatar
    Not Today

    Group think is a dangerous thing. Better grades can’t also be, in part, caused by the increasingly talented students who choose to attend UVA? Students with higher academic performance and capacity? Correlation is not causation folks! When my alma began it’s national climb, every class for nearly 15 years exceeded the average stats of the prior one. That’s a measure of success, folks. Sometimes the incoming students are just plain better than you.

    1. walter smith Avatar
      walter smith

      The favorite phrase of the Left – except when wishing to criticize the Right – “correlation is not causation”
      Sometimes, often, correlation is interlinked and even causative.
      This has nothing to do with the kids being “smarter”
      They are pretty ignorant of basic history and basic math skills I can do in my head.
      They have 3 times as many courses as have any value in the real world.
      If this really reflects creme de la creme, why did UVA eliminate the SAT requirement?

      1. Not Today Avatar
        Not Today

        ‘The left’ has an awful lot of favorite phrases. It would be helpful if you could demonstrate with something other than supposition that ‘grade inflation’ is the sole cause of higher GPAs. Have you, or can you cite a regression analysis that demonstrates the relationship between the two?

        You know students today are (more) ignorant of basic history vs. those in generations before because?? They haven’t been alive as long. How much accurate knowledge of the civil war era did boomers have upon college entry? Your relationship to/knowledge of UVA students’ math capacity is…?

        The university is probably (I’m speculating based on trends in higher ed and facts about SAT/ACT and SCOTUS energy) is devaluing the SAT/ACT because the ceiling is too low to provide meaningful differentiation between the high-achieving, high-stat students it accepts, because using the tests (which reflect socioeconomic status as much as learning) prevent them from having the widest possible pool of low-income and URM applicants to consider, and because eliminating the test requirement results in more applications and rejections (contributing to the higher exclusivity of the institution, greater desirability, and more revenue per student).

        1. walter smith Avatar
          walter smith

          Why don’t you cite real evidence to support your suppositions?
          How about the trend shown suggests itself and YOU refute it?
          And I can base my knowledge of student knowledge of history and math by having 5 kids graduating from colleges from 2008 through 2025. And these are so-called, smart, privileged kids who attended so-called “good” high schools.
          And you are in favor of drawing more applications to get more rejections to increase the perceived exclusivity of the school to charge more per student? Where does educating the student fit in?
          Do you work in UVA admissions?

          1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
            Dick Hall-Sizemore

            My grandson recently graduated from high school and entered college. His math and science knowledge are light years ahead of me when I went to college.

            I think there is validity to the argument that today’s students entering college are ahead of their predecessors, at least in STEM subjects.

          2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
            Dick Hall-Sizemore

            My grandson recently graduated from high school and entered college. His math and science knowledge are light years ahead of me when I went to college.

            I think there is validity to the argument that today’s students entering college are ahead of their predecessors, at least in STEM subjects.

          3. LarrytheG Avatar

            public high school?

          4. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
            Dick Hall-Sizemore


          5. LarrytheG Avatar

            Thanks.. That’s what I remember from prior conversations.

            So, I know little about home schooling in terms of how the student is assessed with regard to achievement.

            You said he was light years ahead of you. What are you basing that on? Did he take SOLs or SATs or ?? what do home schoolers do to determine academic performance?

          6. Not Today Avatar
            Not Today

            I homeschooled our children through middle school. Some states require annual assessments with nationally normed tests, others don’t. I tested for my own knowledge but very low stress. I was concerned my kids wouldn’t get access to (what I consider) on-level math instruction or accurate history if I didn’t. I wasn’t wrong. Kids like mine are woefully underrepresented in honors/AP math and science classes.

          7. walter smith Avatar
            walter smith

            Maybe…but I don’t think so. They may know how to use a calculator, but basic math. Figuring out different ways of doing things? And certainly deficient in American History…

          8. Not Today Avatar
            Not Today

            I’m sorry. I’m having a hard time following your comments, logic. Your individual students/anecdotes do not a story make.

            I can address the first part tho, with UVA SAT scores over time:

            There was an increase in the average SAT score of 60+ points from 1985 to 2016. SAT lowered its ceiling and compressed scores in the middle still a jump that big is notable. https://blog.collegevine.com/new-sat-vs-old-sat-score-conversion-chart/

            If you haven’t been paying attention to these changes, I can understand how it might be disorienting.

            I am not, in fact, in favor of generating revenue by being a highly rejective institution. I simply recognize that’s the game colleges are playing. I do not work in admissions either. I just make it my business to know how to guide/shape our kids’ educational paths.

          9. In your link: UVA 2016 SAT median 1350

            In 2022 “Middle 50% range for SAT
            Evidence Based Reading and Writing 690-750;

            Math 710-790.”

            But there’s a big difference in 2022: 42% did not submit scores; 43% didn’t in 2021….


          10. Not Today Avatar
            Not Today

            In 2020 and 2021 most students didn’t even have the option to take tests. If you’re the parent of a college-bound teen, you know tests were being cancelled en masse, worldwide to prevent the spread of a deadly disease. Students in their sophomore, junior and senior year were affected. DUH. It will take several years for the impact to work it’s way through the system.

          11. Which is exactly why you can’t draw a direct comparison of scores between then and now.

          12. Not Today Avatar
            Not Today

            I didn’t. The data I posted was from the 1980s through 2016, pre-COVID. 🤦‍♀️

          13. walter smith Avatar
            walter smith

            Which refutes grade inflation, how? Hasn’t there been SAT inflation? Didn’t they re-calibrate it? And, even if the scores are going up, where is the actual, practical knowledge? Instagram, TikTok, Fakebook et al seem to have made them stupider. Couldn’t change a tire, change oil, read a map… Kind of amazingly inept without their phones.
            Glad you don’t approve of the game-playing, but is “educational future” at a University of Richmond worth $77,000 a year? I think UVA is getting close to not being worth it, and that is at In State rates!

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