Those who have bemoaned the steady raise of GPAs at universities in the U.S. now have a bit of visual proof for solace. Christopher Healy of Furman University and Stuart Rojstaczer of Duke have put together a comprehensive study of grade inflation that looks at all of the letter grades handed out by more than 200 colleges over the past half century. Their data shows that while just 15 percent of grades were A's in 1960, they now account for 43 percent today.

So why are so many kids now acing college courses? It's probably not because they are studying more: One report from last year showed that college students in 2003 studied for 13 fewer hours per week than those in 1961. Catherine Rampell at The New York Times thinks that the cause might be shifting standards: Since the 1970's professors have been under more pressure to assign better grades. "After all, poor grades could land young men in Vietnam," she writes. The researchers themselves say in their report that "undergraduate GPAs are now so saturated at the high end that they have little use as a motivator of students and as an evaluation tool for graduate and professional schools and employers." 

The results of Healy and Furman's study are succinctly summarized in the graph below. See the steadily raising red line? That represents the increase in the percentage of A grades given out by college instructors since the 1960's. 

 

For another way of looking at the researchers' data, they produced showing how grading curves have changed over the same period . In the 1960s, the peak of the curve was at C (putting famous C-student George W. Bush firmly the middle of the pack when he graduated from Yale in 1968). By the 1980s it had moved to B and now its at A, with a fast drop off after B.