COMMENTARY | Yesterday I attended my high school’s graduation ceremony, watching many seniors to whom I had taught Economics cross the stage with a smile. For the most part, I smiled. Occasionally, I spotted a student the school had simply allowed to graduate, encouraging teachers to bump up grades so the school’s graduation statistics looked better. During the ceremony the school principal asked all students who had been accepted to a college or university to stand up…and all students promptly stood. For the past six years all local high school graduates have received automatic acceptance to the local community college. This includes legitimate graduates and grade-bump-inflated graduates.
It turns out that grade inflation is rapidly occurring at the top as well as at the bottom. According to NBC , many schools are now graduating multiple valedictorians, sometimes even bestowing the title “valedictorian,” traditionally given only to the academically top-ranked graduate, on any graduate with a 4.0 grade-point-average. This can create groups of up to 30 or more “valedictorians” at large high schools. Worryingly, all of these “valedictorians” can formally claim to be ranked No. 1 in their respective graduating classes. How does this valedictorian inflation trend affect graduates of schools that only graduate one valedictorian, as is traditional?
The trend reveals the desperation of students and parents to get into “good” colleges and universities. Unfortunately, it harms non-valedictorians. How can a No. 2 or No. 3 graduate from a high school with only one valedictorian compete with a horde of inflated valedictorians who can formally claim No. 1 status? Will colleges and universities that see their valedictorian statistics rise begin raising their tuition and fees? After all, a college or university that doubles or triples its number of enrolled high school valedictorians looks more competitive and prestigious, increasing admissions demand and allowing the institution to increase its tuition and fees.
University X, now having many more high school valedictorians on campus, can tout this statistic and charge a premium for enrollment. Parents and students, increasingly desperate to go to a “good” school, will pay, furthering the college debt problem. Legitimate salutatorians and other graduates, meanwhile, unfairly struggle under a rigged game to compete for admissions against inflated valedictorians. Due to these problems, states should consider legislation to prevent high schools from bestowing formal valedictorian honors on multiple students.