IT is confirmed. I belong to the older generation not only of students but of teachers. In my time, it was rare to graduate with Latin honors, more so as summa cum laude. Not anymore. At UP Diliman alone, there are 147 who are graduating as summa, more than the total combined number from 2018 until 2021.
In fact, in addition to them, a total of 634 are graduating cum laude, while 652 are graduating magna cum laude, for a total of 1,433 who are graduating with Latin honors.
And the inflation is not only in the number of honor graduates among students. It can also be seen in the increasing number of faculty in many universities and colleges with full professor ranks. The number is not only increasing, but the average age is also getting younger.
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I lived in a generation of students where earning Latin honor was a scarce opportunity. In my graduating batch in 1982, there was only one summa cum laude, and a handful magna cum laude and cum laude. I find myself at the tail end of a generation of professors where the rank of full professor is reserved for senior scholars, not necessarily in terms of their age but also in terms of their placement in the ecosystem of their respective disciplines and professions.
Now, we see the spectacle of very junior scholars who reach the rank of full professor earlier in their careers, even as we witness the number of honor graduates of UP Diliman by the thousands.
There was a time that I surmised that perhaps it is in the fortification of the formula and the food that made later generations more intelligent than my generation that subsisted on evaporated and condensed milk so early in our lives, if we were lucky. Perhaps it is because of the drive from stage parents who are in dire need of affirmation that they push their children to excellence. I remember my parents not even minding my study habits, and I have never seen any of my cohorts being handled by tutors paid by their parents or attending tutorials or even review classes.
I also entertained the thought that perhaps it is the practice of using teacher evaluation as a basis for promotion and tenure decisions that pressured college professors to give higher grades for them to obtain higher evaluations from their students.
On the part of the faculty, the focus on publications as the basis for career progression, as well as in determining university global rankings, has been juxtaposed with incentivizing multiple authorship. Now, it is easier for a junior faculty who served as a partner or team member of a senior colleague to produce publications. The number of academic journals have also dramatically increased, even as the period from submitting a manuscript to publication is now significantly shortened.
While it is a welcome development for students and faculty, it is also now a cause for alarm to many who are concerned about the institutional effects of this hyperinflation of Latin honors for students and of full professorships for faculty. Some colleagues in the teaching profession are now concerned about the cheapening effect these may have on the value of being a summa cum laude, magna cum laude and cum laude, and the erosion of the prestige attached to being a full professor.
Right now, students are beginning to look at Latin honors no longer as a reward for doing well, but as an entitlement for which they can negotiate with their professors. I know of some students running for Latin honors who practically beg for higher grades, and are willing to render extra work to achieve this. I have repeatedly refused, even chastised students who have the audacity to bargain with me for higher grades. But I can just imagine the pressure untenured faculty or those applying for promotion would feel, since a denial could easily lead to some students retaliating by giving them poor student evaluations.
Grade inflation can also be traced to structural causes. One of the culprits would be structurally embedded in this new learning paradigm called outcomes-based education where a 4-scale rubric to rate student performance is used. In my personal experience, this tends to favor an upward bias for students to earn a 3 which stands for "proficient" or 4 which stands for "accomplished" and not a 2 which only means "approaching proficiency."
It is also in outcomes-based education where emphasis is now given on so-called authentic assessment of student performance that focus on outputs that are qualitatively assessed using the above rubrics, like projects or actual performance, and less on paper and pencil tests. My experience indicates that the former kind of assessment tends to lead to higher student grades compared to paper and pencil tests.
This is not to totally dismiss the value of outcomes-based approaches and the role of rubrics. What is now required is for educational managers and faculty to make the necessary adjustments to student learning assessment in the light of the inflation of grades and consequently Latin honors that we are now experiencing.
A similar review should be done by universities and colleges in their faculty promotion system, particularly in the entry requirements to the full professor ranks. One can use the strategy employed by DLSU Manila where in addition to publication requirements, which will now have to be vetted by external peer referees, points from teaching and community or societal engagement are also required to be earned. A faculty should also have earned an award before one can qualify to become full professor.
Awards and recognition of achievements, when easily achieved, lose their distinction. The advances in educational technology, both for students and professors, require a recalibration of the standards for anyone to merit such award or achievement. Failing to do so will lead to an erosion in the way people value these awards and achievements.