For instance, in this wikipedia there is the (un-cited) criticism that a specific scholarship has led to grade inflation.

HOPE has been blamed for increased levels of grade inflation in Georgia schools, with teachers feeling pressured to give their students higher grades to maintain the necessary GPA for the scholarship.

I have heard this repeated more than once, but have also seen this paper indicating that this effect does not exist, which has a few sampling flaws.

Is there any research definitively showing that the affect of academic scholarships on grade inflation?

1 Answer 1


A competitive scholarship (with a fixed number of awards) would normally lead to students at the margin (with the assistance of their teachers who want them to do well) to work harder and to give greater focus to the test which determines who gets the scholarship.

A performance scholarlship (with a fixed standard for an award) would do the same, but if the standard is based on GPA then it also gives an incentive to helpful teachers to provide some grade inflation. The difficult part is quantifying how much of an impact the different incentives have.

A study of the Georgia HOPE Scholarship after it had been running a few years looked at this. It showed an increasing proportion of Georgia students taking SAT has a B or better, both before and after the introduction of HOPE. This may or may not be grade inflation, but it is difficult to say the scholarships caused it. Meanwhile the average SAT scores of students reporting B or better rose very slightly after the introduction of HOPE; this may be a result of parallel GPA and SAT grade inflation, but again it provides no evidence of grade inflation caused by HOPE scholarships. The report says

At Georgia’s public colleges, this analysis suggests that at minimum HOPE has not increased grade inflation

which I think is a fair comment: whether or not there has been continual grade inflation, it has not obviously been accelerated by the scholarships.

  • 1
    Just curious, but how does SAT inflation work? Being from Georgia, I can definitely see the possibility of grade-inflation, though I can't say it's restricted to areas that have scholarships comparable to HOPE. But it seems like SAT inflation would be much more difficult and intentionally fraudulent. Mar 31, 2011 at 16:21
  • One issue with SAT is whether it aims to maintain the same level year-to-year, or it keeps the median scores near to 500 per test. If the latter approach is combined with an increasing number of low-scoring individuals taking the test, this makes it easier for those who would have taken the test anyway to score more highly. Incidentally, if for some reason children do start to get better overall then there may be SAT deflation.
    – Henry
    Mar 31, 2011 at 17:10
  • So your saying there might be some inflation simply because more bad students are taking the test. That seems a little too indirect for establishing a cause and effect relationship. Mar 31, 2011 at 18:05
  • As much as I'd like to accept this, I'm still skeptical. There's only one research link provided, from a school that has a significant financial interest in HOPE staying around (because it HOPE both sends more students to college and creates a huge incentive for them to stay in the state and in a public college by reducing student family direct cost). Ideally research would be done by someone not so vested in achieving a particular outcome. Jun 7, 2011 at 18:21

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