And so, at the faculty senate meeting (at a large public university) an administrator is gloating how the graduation rates have soared by anywhere from 5 to 50% (at different colleges of the university) within a short span of a few years (1-3). This came after the administration made very strong pronouncements that "we must increase graduation rates..." I sarcastically suggested we patent the method of getting such a great surge in success rate. All other faculty were silent and it appears to me that this is a national trend. Nobody seems to care about quality.

Surely, to have these graduation rates surge, some variables need to change. None of them did -- same poorly prepared students, same faculty and no revolutionary education discoveries. Conclusion -- good old grade inflation and social promotion is the cause, but here prompted by a snap of fingers of the corporate executives and executed gladly by compliant faculty. Am I missing something?

Questions: How is it that faculty (and tenured faculty at that) seem to not give a hoot about the quality of education, rather seem to be perfectly content with this corporate drive to convert universities into blatant diploma mills? Why are students willing to pay for a piece of paper that has no backing?

Any serious explanations?

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    It would be great to hear from people who dislike my questions.
    – Rado
    Commented Feb 10, 2018 at 5:30
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    I can't see a real question in there, it's just a rant. Unless your question is "why do less-good universities still get students"?
    – nengel
    Commented Feb 10, 2018 at 5:32
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    LOW graduation rate, Low interest to study there. Low income-
    – SSimon
    Commented Feb 10, 2018 at 6:20
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    -1: Your story is hard to follow due to unusual grammatical structures and excessive parentheticals. You’ll be much more comprehensible if you write in a straightforward manner. Your questions also seem like a complete non-sequitur from the preceding story. Commented Feb 10, 2018 at 6:20
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    Ay my institution, administration lowered standards, the faculty union filed a lawsuit, and that court case was lost. Nowadays, administration has legal carte blanche to do whatever they want. Faculty can't stay enraged forever for nothing. See Ginsburg, The Fall of the Faculty: insidehighered.com/news/2011/07/14/… Commented Feb 10, 2018 at 6:46

1 Answer 1


It's difficult for individuals to resist societal trends.

The grade inflation is in no way driven only by colleges seeking to make a quick buck - they are responding to a higher demand for graduates. The "knowledge economy" plays a role in this, but also employer degree inflation - it seems like many companies these days will only hire people with a university degree for jobs that were in the past done by high school graduates. In essence, these days, in terms of getting a job, a college degree is the new high school diploma. (Which answers your question of why students pay for them.)

That means that you now have not only the top few students of a year, but a much larger group to educate. The average high schooler probably didn't get massively smarter though (but probably has to work more hours on the side than in the past to pay to be there), so you necessarily have to lower your standards a bit. That doesn't mean that the degree becomes 'useless': they will still learn things in these four years, just not quite as many as a class made only of valedictorians would.

That's for the societal trend that drives these developments. Individual faculty see their individual students, having taken on large debt, struggling to get somewhere. Now, they can give them a failing grade, or not.

They probably feel compassion for their students. They are surely aware of the general trends, and realize that the neighboring universities one or two places up or down the rankings are giving similar students a pass. Why would they want to punish these students in front of them in particular, that they have grown to know and like, and condemn them to a life of burger-flipping, when they are no less deserving than their peers?

They also probably think their university (and their research, which has its own inflationary pressures forcing them to concentrate less on their teaching) has value, and don't want to see it close due to lack of funds because no students want to risk studying there any more. If the faculty don't act as a cohesive group (insert herding cats joke), an individual faculty member faces additional pressure because they are suddenly giving worse average grades to the same students than their fellow teachers, which leads to awkward questions from students and the administration. Faculty are as susceptible to peer pressure as anyone, and somewhat likely to think that maybe they are doing something wrong in that situation, not everyone else.

  • +1 I feel sad but I think what you say is quite true.
    – Nobody
    Commented Feb 10, 2018 at 7:21
  • +1 so sad but so true. I wish that you had references also.
    – SSimon
    Commented Feb 10, 2018 at 7:24
  • @SSimon: hah, me too. I have no idea how accurate this is - I'm in CS, I don't have the social science background to even know how to evaluate that - it just feels like it's true.
    – nengel
    Commented Feb 10, 2018 at 7:31
  • @nengel, thank you for an attempt at answering this rather complex question. I am a tad surprised that a few of you want to kill it. I think it is a question of fundamental importance. Surely universities are taking on more and more students which (many colleagues) know will not make it, even after reduction of standards. To my query, an administrator replied that "students have a right to fail". What about patient having a right to die, even though you know a way (however hard) to save them. Do we have ethical obligations to the society.
    – Rado
    Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 23:18
  • @nengel Would one be happy to be operated on by a physician who had gotten their diploma with reduced or non-existent standards? In this respect, do universities of today differ in quality from internet diploma mills from a decade ago? Surely, we can pretend that these are issues one cannot discuss, yet if we do not, things will become even worse than they are now. In my research, only 30% of random US population (school to PhD diplomas) can add 1/2+1/3. Is that something to brush off and wink away?
    – Rado
    Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 23:22

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