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High School Grades Hit By Inflation

Gasoline prices are up, unemployment is up, so why shouldn't students' grades be a little, well, inflated, too?

More than 45 percent of this year's college freshmen say they managed to graduate high school with an "A" average, but their academic prowess isn't supported by their grades.

A new study finds this year's freshmen have the worst study habits in 15 years. One-third — 33.4 percent — of them spent six hours or more per week studying or doing homework during their senior year in high school. It was the lowest percentage since the survey question was first posed by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1987.

So how does that reconcile with those lofty high school grade point averages? Alexander Astin, who started the survey in 1966, attributes it to a single factor: Pressure.

But not on the students.

"The best interpretation we can make is that grade inflation has been increasing because of all the pressure on teachers from students and parents to help them become more competitive for college," said Astin.

"Each year we think it can't inflate anymore. And then it does again. The C-grade is almost a thing of the past." Last year, 44.1 percent of respondents reported carrying an "A" average in high school.

Freshman Abby Shutter learned almost immediately that her relatively lax high school study habits wouldn't cut it at the University of Delaware.

"I took a lot of (advanced placement) courses in high school and I thought I was prepared for college. I didn't know how difficult it was going to be," she said. "Not only do you have to focus on the tests, but every project is more important than high school."

The number of "distractions" — such as parties — in college make hitting the books in college even more difficult, Shutter said.

According to the survey, however, Shutter's class doesn't drink anywhere near as much as its predecessors.

The study said an all-time low of 46.5 percent of freshmen — compared to a high of 73.7 percent in 1982 — reported drinking beer either frequently or occasionally over the past 12 months. Furthermore, 35.8 percent of freshmen said they don't attend a single party during a typical week.

With the decline in partying has come increased focus on politics — at least for now. "We don't know whether it's a 9-11 blip or part of a trend," Astin said.

Among freshmen entering college in 2001, 31.4 percent said they kept abreast of political affairs. In 2002, the number increased to 32.9 percent as the first class of freshmen entered school following the terrorist attacks.

The all-time low in political interest, 28.1 percent, was recorded in 2000 and the all-time high, 60.3 percent, in 1966.

The report, conducted with the American Council on Education, was based on responses from 282,549 students at 437 public and private colleges and universities to a written survey. A total of 1.2 million students are currently enrolled in four-year schools.