May 4, 2010
Loyola law students are having trouble getting jobs. The economy, it would seem, is bad. So administrators and faculty are on the case. They care about their students. They are going to make everything right. They are going to retroactively raise every grade on every transcript by one third (a "B-" become a "B"; a "B" becomes a "B+"; etc.). Because cooking the transcripts is just the sort of thing that's called for in these tough economic times.
Here's how Loyola law dean Victor Gold spins it:
Last week the faculty approved a proposal to modify the grading system. The change will boost by one step the letter grades assigned at each level of our mandatory curve. For example, what previously was a B- would be a B, what previously was a B would be a B+, and so forth. All other academic standards based on grades, such as the probation and disqualification thresholds, are also adjusted upwards by the same magnitude. For reasons that will be explained below, these changes are retroactive to include all grades that have been earned under the current grading system since it was adopted. This means that all grades already earned by current students will be changed. It also means that all grades going forward will be governed by the new curve. The effect of making the change retroactive will be to increase the GPA of all students by .333. The change will not alter relative class rank since the GPA of all students will be moved up by the same amount.
I asked the faculty to make this change for two reasons. First, grades provide information about our students and our academic program. Employers and external sources of scholarship dollars pay very careful attention to this information. The information conveyed by the old grading curve did not accurately convey the high quality of our students. Over the last several years our students have improved significantly as measured by all the usual standards of academic accomplishment. In 1999, the undergraduate GPA for the 25th/75th percentiles of our first year class was 3.00-3.50 and the LSAT was 154/160. In 2009 the GPA was 3.17-3.61 and the LSAT was 158-163. Just 70% of our 1999 graduates passed the July bar exam on the first attempt. Over 85% of our 2009 graduates passed on the first try.
Second, many other schools already have moved their curves higher than ours to give their students an advantage in this difficult job market. In fact, before this change, only one other accredited California law school had a mean grade for first year classes as low as ours. Without adjusting our curve, we send an inaccurate message to employers about the comparative quality of our students and put them at an unfair competitive disadvantage. Since we are adjusting our curve well after many other schools in our region already moved their curves higher, our faculty decided it was important to make this adjustment retroactive.
The memo is as comprehensively logical as it is unethical ("That's not just inflation; that's a rewriting of history"), noting that "A+" will remain the highest possible grade -- not because it's insane to adopt an A++ notation, but because employers might not recognize what that means. Loyola does plan to award 4.667 points for these non-notable A++ grades, though, as opposed to the 4.333 that goes with the standard A+.
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Wow--this is a stunner. But it still won't matter: there are no jobs in Big Law for these graduates. And they still owe Loyola (or whoever paid for it) a lot of money in student loans. Watch for the big reset in the coming years. It will affect the undergraduate experience too.
Yup. This is a huge argument for not taking on debt, and going to less expensive schools. We are in the midst of a major recalibration -- and if one result is that private schools with extortionate tuitions have to compete for students with less expensive schools, I'm thinking that's good.
There needs to be a good channel for getting information like this to prospective employers, primarily law firms and corporate legal departments in this case, so that they can properly factor it into their assessment of candidates from particular schools...
Wow. Never mind the grade inflation: Loyola marks to a curve?! Is this normal in US universities? That hasn't been done on this side of the Atlantic for decades. Oh, and I've never awarded anything higher than an A- (and only about 3 of those) in more than 10 years of teaching. We do things very differently over here, obviously.
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