Researchers at the University say college freshmen are coming with better grades and more advanced placement credits than ever before. But according to a national survey, incoming freshmen are not necessarily prepared for college.
At the University of California at Los Angeles, experts believe the incidence of higher grades awarded to high school seniors is due to grade inflation.
“Expectations are higher (before freshmen arrive at college),” said Linda Sax, UCLA Higher Education Research Institute associate director. “Because they”re getting good grades in high school, they think college will be easy. A “C” is often interpreted as failure, when in the past it meant average.
“High school grades are going up, but there”s no evidence of the students being better prepared,” said Sax.
Malinda Matney, senior research associate at the Division of Student Affairs, said University participants in the national Cooperative Institutional Research Program survey have shown that they are more serious about their studies than students at other highly selective public universities. Entering students” high school grade point averages are also much higher than those of their peers nationally.
Matney said 88 percent of freshmen took at least one AP course, and 60 percent took between two and six AP exams.
“These surveys by themselves wouldn”t track grade inflation very well,” Matney added. “What rings true in our experience is that much harder-working students are trying to get into U of M.”
Matney said she knows students” grades are not necessarily due to grade inflation because, “U-M entering students reported more participation in study with other students and tutoring, and more hours spent on studying than their peers at other public highly selective institutions.”
In addition to studying more, University of Michigan students seem to be more involved in extracurricular activities.
“U-M entering students report more often than their peers that, in the past year, they have played musical instruments, attended recitals or concerts, visited art galleries or attended religious services,” Matney said. “A larger proportion of U-M entering students also report that they performed volunteer work in the past year, as well as expect to perform community service while enrolled at U-M.”
However, while high school students” grades seem to be going up, Sax said she attributes some of the increases to changing attitudes about the difficulty of college courses. This may not be the case at the University.
Sax said as high school grade point averages rise, American students” perceptions about the difficulty of college work change.
On a national level, unusually high expectations about college academic performance do not necessarily lead to freshmen leaving college after their first year.
“The first-year retention rate is about 70 percent, but that varies by campus,” Sax said.
Matney said administrators can use this data “to see trends and incorporate those trends into future planning. We do see profound changes in student behaviors, experiences and goals over time and we need to be alert to these changes.”