Almost every day, I am reminded of the declining standards in American education. Into my office come job candidates, many of whom have no idea that their basic scholastic skills and general fund of knowledge do not measure up to their lofty GPAs. In fact, I had the pleasure of meeting the prototypical case. She was a 28 year-old woman who was sent by our local sheriff’s office to be psychologically evaluated for the position of ‘Child Investigative Specialist’. These are the people that investigate allegations of child abuse and neglect. Having very large caseloads and a critical mission, they need to be very conscientious, organized, and thorough in order to follow-up with every case that needs immediate attention. A careless slip-up could results in preventable abuse, neglect, or worse! One of the qualifications for the position is a bachelor’s degree.
The 28 year-old candidate arrived punctually for her appointment, was beautifully coiffed, attired, and bejeweled, was very poised, and was a good communicator. She spent several hours completing a background information form, a writing sample, a reading comprehension test, a brief test of general intelligence, and a few bubble-in personality tests. She then met with me for a one-hour interview. The most noteworthy information from all of her paperwork was the fact that she obtained her Bachelor of Arts in sociology in 2 years from a local, small, private, not-for-profit university, graduating with a 4.0 cumulative GPA. I had never before seen this level of achievement, and my first impulse was to assume that she is both very hard working and very smart. I also wondered how anybody could complete 120 college credits, about 40 courses, in 2 years. In her interview:
I asked: To complete your degree in 2 years, did you transfer any credits from other colleges or universities, get AP (Advanced Placement) or CLEP (College Level Examination Program) credits, or get credits for life experiences?
She replied: No, I just took a heavy course load every semester for 4 semesters.
Me: Did you need to get special permission from the university to take 30 credits, or about 10 courses, per semester?
She: No, I just registered for the courses. There was no problem.
Me: You wrote that you had a 4.0 cum. Did you actually get an ‘A’ in every course?
She: Yes, I did.
After she left my office, I checked with the registrar of her university, and it was confirmed that she attended for 2 years and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree, graduating with high honors. They would not divulge her GPA.
Now, this story wouldn’t be so fascinating unless you know some of the information gleaned from her test results. First, her reading comprehension tested at the average for American 10th graders. Next, her writing sample indicated that she possessed weak writing skills, especially with respect to spelling, grammar, and punctuation. I would compare her writing skills to the average 9th grader. Finally, her general intelligence tested at the 44 %-ile, which is average. She definitely was not intellectually gifted, as one might suspect, based on her college achievements.
I’m wondering how a student of average abilities (to be generous), could earn straight ‘A’s in 10 courses for 4 consecutive semesters. There’s much to be said for hard work, but I don’t think that could possibly be the whole story. The university she attended is accredited by the major one for our region, SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools). I’m wondering if SACS is aware that this university permits students to register for 10 courses per semester. I’m also wondering if many students at that university take such heavy course loads and if many of them graduate with 4.0 cumulative GPAs. Having delved into the grade inflation phenomenon in some depth, I suspect that this university is a serial offender. They might have taken grade inflation to a whole new level, completely destroying any meaning that grades ever had.