Do Grades Still Matter?
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Once upon a time, having straight A’s or the coveted 4.0 GPA was the gold standard of academic success and achievement; however, “good grades” on your transcript doesn’t always translate into “good jobs” after graduation. And it doesn’t always reflect the best students in class. Every semester I ask my students, “How many of you have received an ‘A’ in a class where you barely learned anything, barely exerted any real effort, or can no longer remember what you actually learned?” I am never surprised when 85 percent of the hands shoot straight up into the air.
From Harvard to HBCUs, grade inflation has become an epidemic. Some professors argue that the pressure to award higher grades comes from institutional agendas to see their graduates receiving competitive jobs with higher salaries in the workforce. In other cases, untenured professors worry that giving lower grades will hurt their student evaluations results, and compromise their chances of sustainable employment. As a result, more students are developing a sense of entitlement, degrees are becoming devalued, and employers are favoring candidates with experience more than those with high GPAs.
In 2012, Forbes published a report on the 10 most desirable skills for the workforce. Critical thinking, complex problem solving, judgment/decision making, and active listening were atop the list. The college classroom is the perfect environment to practice and cultivate these skills. However, when students approach the classroom simply as a means to an end, the real opportunity to strengthen their job prospects becomes lost.
Further, because grade inflation is an epidemic, students must find other ways to distinguish themselves from the competition. The college classroom is where students learn to raise intelligent questions, wrestle with difficult problems, build relationships with their professors, and develop the skills necessary for professional communication and leadership.
Does this mean that grades no longer matter? Of course they do! Academic achievement is still an important measure of student success. But grades aren’t the only measure. Students who have sacrificed their sleep and social lives to keep and maintain high GPAs should be commended. Still, grades are only one part of a much larger picture. Employers are looking for candidates who can bring more to the table. Just because students are fortunate enough to find a job after graduation isn’t a guarantee that they will keep it. A 2013 report from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reports that 3 out of 5 college grads had lost their jobs within a year of obtaining it.
Students who want to add value to their degree should:
1) Approach the classroom with a sincere desire to learn (not just get a good grade)
2) Make broader connections between material in the classroom and the real world
3) Learn to work well in a team environment
4) Learn how to analyze data
5) Practice professional communication (texts, emails, social media posts, blogs)
6) Repurpose school assignments into projects or solutions that can work in the real world
Taking these additional steps will give students a marketable skill set that will set them apart from their competitors and place greater emphasis on what the students can deliver beyond the classroom.
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