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Hard Dartmouth Soft Dartmouth

Here’s a chart that gives one pause. It was prepared for this space a while back by a thoughtful undergrad with a taste for figures. The College’s most popular departments are the ones giving out the lowest grades (and I’ve been told that Econ has recently tightened things up even more):

Course Popularity and Difficulty.png.jpg

From the looks of things, the departments that students feel are relevant (pre-med/law/b-school track?) are tough graders, and the Humanities (who have no greater supporter than your humble servant, despite the fact that too many faculty members have lost their way) feel the need to entice students with easy A’s.

Perhaps the administration could work on this problem, rather than building silly community houses.

Addendum: The College leads the Ivies in inflating grades over recent decades:

Grade Inflation over time national.jpg

However, as a report from Grade observes:

It’s worth noting that Dartmouth and Duke are in the upper right corner of this chart not because their grades are high relative to similar institutions today, but because their grades were low in 1960.

The College was once a tough place, too.

Erratum: Government Professor John Carey (a subject of Dartblog’s Guide to the Stars) writes in with a correction:

I agree that the chart plotting enrollments against average median grades by departments/programs is interesting. However, it was not “prepared for this space a while back by a thoughtful undergrad with a taste for figures.” It was produced by a thoughtful undergrad, Zachary Markovich ‘15, enrolled in the course Data Visualization (GOV16/QSS17) in Spring 2015. The course is taught by GOV Professor Yusaku Horiuchi. As one of the requirements for the course, students find primary source data and produce original analyses centered around graphical representations. Professor Horiuchi enlists colleagues to assess the best representations and select those that warrant special recognition - which is why I recognize this graph. Note that the version of the graph you have printed has part of a laurel wreath in the upper right-hand corner. The graphs from GOV16/QSS17 are on display in Silsby and the ones that earned special recognition have the little laurels on them, which suggests that Dartblog’s reporter probably photographed a graph from the display. That is fine — it’s a nice graph on an important topic — but the original source should be accurately reported.

Duly noted.

Addendum: Zach Markovich ‘15, who prepared the graph at the start of this post, writes in with a comment:

Although it’s definitely possible that “soft” departments give higher grades to attract students away from more lucrative majors, I think there other explanations of the trend as well. It’s equally plausible that students without an aptitude or passion for the subject matter quickly abandon less career relevant majors when they get low grades in their first classes but stick it out in the “hard” majors because they think they’ll ultimately be rewarded for it even though they received poor grades. The ultimate result is that the distribution of grades across majors looks the same, but for a very different reason. A good example of this effect might be classics, which had a reputation for giving very harsh grades, even though it’s grade distribution is middle of the pack. My best guess is that the trend in the graph is a combination of both these factors. For readers interested in the confounding effect of student sorting between majors on observed grade inflation, I’ve written a paper on this subject with Dartmouth Goverment professor Michael Herron that they can find here.


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