It is no secret that Korean universities tend to give overly generous grades to students. School authorities even employ measures, some of which could amount to “cooking the books,” to help students get high GPAs. This grade inflation trend on college campuses is so pervasive and the scores so distorted that many Korean employers hiring graduates do not put as much emphasis on students’ transcripts as they did in the past.
Grade inflation has become rampant mainly due to the ever-tightening job market for college graduates. Universities and professors are willing to pad their students’ grades in order to improve their chances of getting a job. They do so because the rate at which graduates land jobs is vital for each school’s reputation. This rate is a major factor even when the government determines the level of subsidies and grants.
Regardless, the grade inflation tendency is truly worrisome. A recent Ministry of Education report found that a majority of universities and colleges “adjust” student GPAs in one way or another.
One of the most prevalent ways is removing all the F’s from the transcript when a student requests one for job applications. In other words, they have two kinds of transcripts for the same student or graduate, the original one and the one for “outside submission.” In many cases, such transcripts also do not show whether the student took a certain class more than once, which many students do in order to raise their GPA.
In fact, the ministry report, which covered all 337 universities and colleges across the country, said that 116 of them provide such transcripts “tailored for employers.” Among them, 93 do not even count F’s in calculating GPAs. Another popular scheme, used by a total of 227 schools, allows students to get rid of a certain number of the lowest grades on their transcript.
From an extreme standpoint, all these practices are tantamount to document forgery. The first group of people who fall victim to this grade inflation are employers, who need appropriate, valid resources to distinguish applicants. No wonder a growing number of corporate employers are shunning transcripts and seeking more diverse tools for evaluating job applicants.
A survey commissioned by the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry last year found that over 70 percent of the 113 largest companies in the country said they do not consider job applicants’ educational background and age. More than 90 percent of them said they were focusing more on interviews and other methods than on applicants’ resumes.
But this latest trend among employers is not the only reason something has to be done about grade inflation. It disourages fair competition among students, makes it difficult for employers to distinguish applicants and, above all, damages the integrity and credibility of the nation’s higher education system.
It is a relief that some schools are moving to address the problem. Both Korea University in Seoul and Gyeongsang National University in Jinju said they would not remove F’s from transcripts and would not allow students to get rid of any low grades. We laud these decisions and hope more will follow suit.