It’s been noted many times (here, for instance) that professors who give easy As tend to do better on course evaluations than those who don’t. But does this work at the institutional level as well?
It’s hard to tell directly because all institutions essentially grade on the same curve. But we can get at it indirectly by looking at the gap between high school and university grades, which does vary significantly – at more selective institutions, students see a drop; at less selective ones their grades tend to get better.
For this analysis we use self-reported data on grades. Now, we know that skeptics say that this is bad methodology because asking students to self-report on grades is like asking men on a dating site to report on their height or income – all three tend to rise in the telling. But what we’re looking at here is change in reported grades. As long as any exaggeration is consistent across time, the exaggerations should cancel each other out. For math-heads, this can be expressed as:
Onwards to look at our sample from the Globe and Mail. We start by arranging the changes in reported grades between high school and university in bands and looking at average satisfaction in each band. It turns out that there is very little change in satisfaction levels unless students see a very large drop in marks (13% or worse).
Loyal readers will know where this is going. Guess which city has an abnormally high proportion of students whose grades drop precipitously once they get to university?
Figure 2: Percentage of Students with a Drop in Grades of 13% or Worse
How big a difference does this make to satisfaction? Well, check out the differences in satisfaction between students with large grade drops versus others at Toronto institutions; at Mississauga, the difference between students whose grades have fallen a long way and others is greater than one standard deviation.
Figure 3: Average Satisfaction, Students with Large Mark Drop-Offs vs. Others, Toronto
Oddly, when we look at the five institutions elsewhere in Canada with the most students experiencing large drops in marks, we don’t see anything like the same drop in satisfaction, to wit:
Figure 4: Average Satisfaction, Students with Large Mark Drop-Offs vs. Others, Not Toronto
It’s not quite a story about big fish from little ponds getting shocked by the jump to a larger pool. It’s that big fish from Toronto ponds are both likelier to feel a shock and that they feel a whole a lot worse about the jump that fish elsewhere. A simple case of Torontonians’ elevated sense of entitlement? Maybe. Or maybe Toronto is just a more ruthless environment, with higher social penalties for poor performance.