Applied Economics Teaching Resources

an AAEA Journal

Agricultural and Applied Economics Association

Research Article

Are We Similar? Differences in Grading Patterns among Departments in the Same College

Anna Yeritsyan(a) and James W. Mjelde(a)
(a)Texas A&M University

JEL Codes: JEL Codes: I23
Keywords: Grade inflation, student characteristics, instructor characteristics, higher education

Publish Date: January 27, 2024
Volume 6, Issue 1

View Full Article (PDF)


Using a unique data set on institutional, instructor, and student characteristics, mixed effect models are estimated to identify factors correlated with class grade point averages (GPAs) over time among different departments in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (COALS) at Texas A&M University (TAMU). More departments show more potential grade inflation in the years 2004–2019 than during the years 1989–2003. After controlling for individual instructors, student characteristics appear to be more important than instructor and institutional characteristics, except for class size, in explaining GPAs. The number of students in a class is negatively correlated with grades for all departments and periods. If significant, increase in students’ high school rank is positively correlated with university GPA. Graduate students, non-graduate instructors, visiting faculty, and lecturers tend to grade higher than professors. Out of the eight non-science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) departments, seven (87.5 percent) potentially encountered grade inflation. In contrast, out of the four STEM departments, only two (50 percent) experienced potential grade inflation.

About the Authors: Dr. Anna Yeritsyan is a post-doctoral researcher at Texas A&M University (Corresponding author email: Dr. James W. Mjelde is a professor at Texas A&M University. Competing Interests: Anna Yeritsyan and James Mjelde declare no competing interests. Data Availability Statement: Data are available from the authors upon request and subject to human subject and FERPA restrictions. Human Subjects Approval: This research was reviewed by the Texas A&M University IRB, Approval Number IRB2017-0802M

Copyright is governed under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA


Achen, A., and P. Courant. 2009. “What Are Grades Made Of?” Journal of Economic Perspectives 23(3):77–92.

Archibald, R., and D. Feldman. 2012. “The Anatomy of College Tuition.” The American Council on Education.

Bar, T., V. Kadiyali, and A. Zussman. 2009. “Grade Information and Grade Inflation: The Cornell Experiment.” The Journal of Economic Perspectives 23(3):93–108.

Barker, S., and N. Pomerantz. 2000. “Impact of Learning Communities on Retention at a Metropolitan University.” Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice 2(2):115–126.

Beenstock, M., and D. Feldman. 2016. “Decomposing University Grades: A Longitudinal Study of Students and Their Instructors.” Studies in Higher Education 43(1):114–133.

Birnbaum R. 1977. “Factors Related to University Grade Inflation.” The Journal of Higher Education 48(5):519–539. DOI:   10.1080/00221546.1977.11776572

Bond, T., and K. Mumford. 2019. “The Causes and Consequences of Purdue Grade Inflation.” Krannet School of Management Research Center in Economics.

Boretz, E. 2004. “Grade Inflation and the Myth of Student Consumerism.” College Teaching 52(2):42–46.

Butcher, K., P. McEwan, and A. Weerapana. 2014. “The Effects of an Anti-Grade Inflation Policy at Wellesley College.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 28(3):89–204.

Cattaneo, M., P. Maloghetti, M. Meoli, and S. Paleari. 2016. “University Spatial Competition for Students: The Italian Case.” Regional Studies 51(5):750–764.

Chowdhury, F. 2018. “Grade Inflation: Causes, Consequences and Cure.” Journal of Education and Learning 7(6):86–92.

Curran, T., and A. Hill. 2019. “Perfectionism Is Increasing Over Time: A Meta-analysis of Birth Cohort Differences from 1989 to   2016.” Psychological Bulletin 145(4):410–429.

Denning, J., E. Eide, K. Mumford, R. Patterson, and M. Warnick. 2022. “Lower Bars, Higher College GPAs: How Grade Inflation Is Boosting College Graduation Rates.” Education Next 22(1):56–62.

Diette, T., and M. Raghav. 2015. “Class Size Matters: Heterogeneous Effects of Larger Classes on College Student Learning.” Eastern Economic Journal, Palgrave Macmillan; Eastern Economic Association 41(2):273–283.

Diette, T., and M. Raghav. 2016. “A Student’s Dilemma: Is There a Trade-off Between a Higher Salary or Higher GPA.”   Education Economics 24(6):1–10.

Freeman, D. 1999. “Grade Divergence as a Market Outcome.” The Journal of Economic Education 30(4):344–351.

Goldstein, H., and N. Hoboken. 2011. Multilevel Statistical Models, 4th ed. Hoboken NJ: John Wiley & Sons Publishing.

GovInfo. 2022. College Completion Fund Act of 2021. Washington DC: United States Government Publishing Office (GPO) Information Services.

Haladyna, T., S. Nolen, and N. Haas. 1991. “Raising Standardized Achievement Test Scores and the Origins of Test Score   Pollution.” Educational Researcher 20(5):2–7.

Hartnett, R., and J. Centra. 1977. “The Effects of Academic Departments on Student Learning.” The Journal of Higher Education 48(5):491–507.

Hermanowicz, J., and D. Woodring. 2019. “The Distribution of College Grades across Fields in the Contemporary University.” Innovative Higher Education 44(6):497–510.

Hernández-Julián, J., and A. Looney. 2016. “Measuring Inflation in Grades: An Application of Price Indexing to Undergraduate Grades.” Economics of Education Review 55:C220–232.

Herron, M., and Z. Markovich. 2017. “Student Sorting and Implications for Grade Inflation.” Rationality and Society 29(3):355–386.

Howe, W., and N. Strauss. 2000. Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation. New York: Vintage Books.

Hoxby, C. 2000. “The Effects of Geographic Integration and Increasing Competition in the Market for College Education.” NBER Working Paper 6323.

Jefferson, F., N. Gowar, and M. Naef. 2019. English Universities in Crisis: Markets without Competition. Bristol UK:    Bristol University Press.

Jewell, R., and M. McPherson. 2012. “Instructor-Specific Grade Inflation: Incentives, Gender, and Ethnicity.” Social Science Quarterly 93(1):95–109.

Jewell, R., M. McPherson, and M. Tieslau. 2013. “Whose Fault Is It? Assigning Blame for Grade Inflation in Higher Education.” Applied Economics 45(9):1185–1200.

Kezim, B., S. Pariseau, and F. Quinn. 2005. “Is Grade Inflation Related to Faculty Status?” Journal of Education for Business 80(6):358–364.

Kohn, A. 2002. “The Dangerous Myth of Grade Inflation.” The Chronicle of Higher Education 49(11):B7–B9.

Kokkelenberg, E., M. Dillon, and S. Christy. 2008. “The Effects of Class Size on Student Grades at a Public University.” Economics of Education Review 27(2):221–223.

Kostal, J., N. Kuncel, and P. Sackett. 2016. “Grade Inflation Marches on: Grade Increases from the 1990s to 2000s.” Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice 35(1):11–20.

Kuh, G., J. Kinzie, J. Buckley, B. Bridges, and J. Hayek. 2006. “What Matters to Student Success: A Review of the Literature.” Commissioned Report for the National Symposium on Postsecondary Student Success.

Kuh, G., and S. Hu. 1999. “Unraveling the Complexity of the Increase in College Grades from the Mid-1980s to the Mid-1990s.” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 21(3):297–320.

Marbouti, F., A. Shafaat, J. Ulas, and H. Diefes‐Dux. 2018. “Relationship Between Time of Class and Student Grades in an Active Learning Course.” Journal of Engineering Education 107(3):468–490.

McGowen, M., and G. Davis. 2022. “A Numerical Indicator of Student Cognitive Engagement and Mathematical Growth.” International Electronic Journal of Mathematics Education 17(1):em0669.

Merrow, J. 2004. “Grade Inflation: It’s Not Just an Issue for the Ivy League.” Carnegie Perspectives. ERIC Number: ED498995.

Mostrom, A., and P. Blumberg. 2012. “Does Learning-Centered Teaching Promote Grade Improvement?” Innovative Higher Education 37(5):397–405.

Nye, B., L. Hedges, and S. Konstantopoulos. 2001. “Are Effects of Small Classes Cumulative? Evidence From a Tennessee Experiment.” The Journal of Educational Research 94(6):336–345.

O’Dea, R., M. Lagisz, M. Jennions, and S. Nakagawa. 2018. “Gender Differences in Individual Variation in Academic Grades Fail to Fit Expected Patterns for STEM.” Nature Communications 9(1):1–8.

O’Neill, O. 2015. “Integrity and Quality in Universities: Accountability, Excellence and Success.” Humanities 4(1):109–117.

Opstad, L. 2020. “Why Are There Different Grading Practices Based on Students’ Choice of Business Major?” Educational Process International Journal 9(1):43–57.

Ost, B. 2010. “The Role of Peers and Grades in Determining Major Persistence in Sciences.” Economics of Education Review 29(6):923−934.

Peace, II, J. 2017. “How Employers Can Stanch the Hemorrhaging of Collegiate GPA Credibility.” Business Horizons 60(1):35–43.

Popov, S., and D. Bernhardt. 2013. “University Competition, Grading Standards, and Grade Inflation.” Economic Inquiry 51(2):1764–1778.

Rask, K. 2010. “Attrition in STEM Fields at a Liberal Arts College: The Importance of Grades and Pre-collegiate Preferences.” Economics of Education Review 29(6):892–900.

Reames, E., and C. Bradshaw. 2009. “Block Scheduling Effectiveness: A 10-Year Longitudinal Study of One Georgia School System’s Test Score Indicators.” Georgia Educational Researcher 7(1):Article 2.

Rojstaczer, S., and C. Healy. 2012. “Where A Is Ordinary: The Evolution of American College and University Grading, 1940– 2009.” Teachers College Record 114(7):1–23.

Sabot, R., and J. Wakeman-Linn. 1991. “Grade Inflation and Course Choice.” The Journal of Economic Perspectives 5(1):159–170.

Schutz, K., B. Drake, J. Lessner, and G. Hughes. 2015. “A Comparison of Community College Full-Time and Adjunct Faculties’ Perceptions of Factors Associated with Grade Inflation.” The Journal of Continuing Higher Education 63(3):180–192.

Sonner, B. 2000. “‘A is for Adjunct’: Examining Grade Inflation in Higher Education.” Journal of Education for Business 76(1):5– 8.

Teixeira, P., V. Rocha, R. Biscaia, and M. Cardoso. 2014. “Revenue Diversification in Public Higher Education: Comparing the University and Polytechnic Sectors.” Public Administration Review 74(3):398–412.

Smith, J., M. Pender, and J. Howell. 2017. “Competition among Colleges for Students across the Nation.” Southern Economic Journal 84(3):849-878.

Voyer, D., and S. Voyer. 2014. “Gender Differences in Scholastic Achievement: A Meta-analysis.” Psychological Bulletin  140(4):1174–1204.

Westrick, P., H. Le, S. Robbins, J. Radunzel, and F. Schmidt. 2015. “College Performance and Retention: A Meta-analysis of the Predictive Validities of ACT Scores, High School Grades, and SES.” Educational Assessment 20(1):23–45.

Witteveen, D., and P. Attewell. 2020. “The STEM Grading Penalty: An Alternative to the ‘Leaky Pipeline’ Hypothesis.” Science Education 104(4):714–735.

Yeritsyan, A., J.W. Mjelde, and K.K. Litzenberg. 2022. “Grade Inflation or Grade Increase.” Journal of Agricultural & Applied Economics 54(2):1–19.