It's official: In terms of college grades, C really is the new F.

Inside Higher Education reports:

For freshmen taking writing composition at the University of Arizona, receiving a C at the end of the semester may no longer warrant a sigh of relief.

Instead, some of them may have to repeat the class.

Two years ago, Arizona hired Civitas, an education technology company that uses predictive analytics, to track student behavior in an effort to boost student graduation rates. One finding jumped out: students' performance in commonly required courses was linked to whether they would graduate or drop out.

For instance, students at the university who earned an A or a B in an introductory English composition and rhetoric course had a 67 percent chance of graduating, a figure calculated by predictive models of actual graduation numbers. But if they received a C in the required course, students only had a 48 percent chance to graduate — a difference of nearly 20 percentage points….

After receiving the findings over the summer, university officials decided changes had to be made.

What fascinates me is that at Arizona, the state's flagship public university, even if you get an A in that freshman English, you still have only a two-thirds chance of graduating. So A is actually the new C.

We all know the reason: As an update to a national grade-inflation database released earlier this year indicates, A is professors' favorite grade to award, whether at the Ivies or at your local community college. Some of the findings:

  • Grade point averages at four-year colleges are rising at the rate of 0.1 points per decade and have been doing so for 30 years.
  • A is by far the most common grade on both four-year and two-year college campuses (more than 42 percent of grades). At four-year schools, awarding of A's has been going up five to six percentage points per decade and A's are now three times more common than they were in 1960.

And the reason for the grade inflation is also pretty obvious: Right now some 69 percent of high-school graduates enroll in college right after graduation. Only 40 percent of them did in 1960. Since there's no evidence that people today are twice as smart as they were 56 years ago, standards had to give. The result is meaningless college transcripts and worthless college majors.

So here's an idea: Instead of encouraging everybody to go to college–and then boosting their grades artificially so they don't flunk out, or wasting their time before dropping out, how about encouraging most of them to aim for well-paying alternative careers that don't require college degrees. Those jobs are out there.