MBA Grade Nondisclosure: A Policy for the Privileged?

October 17, 2011 · Leave a Comment 

At Columbia Business School over 90 percent of MBA students have just voted to institute a grade nondisclosure policy. This kind of policy is not unknown for many elite business schools, and is built on the belief that grades are not the most important aspect of attending school.

The Grade Nondisclosure Policy

According to the policy, students will not disclose their grades from business school to potential employers until after they are offered the position. In such a way, it emphasizes that other qualities students have are more important. Some of these qualities include: motivation, integrity, professionalism, initiative, creativity, efficiency, goal orientation and adaptability.

Additionally, the policy is enacted in the hope it will encourage students to take on more challenging courses and foster greater cooperation – rather than competition – among the student body.

Usually the rule is self-imposed by the students and has no association with the business schools’ faculty or administration. Regardless, recruiters generally will honor the choice of the applicant.

However, even as Columbia votes to implement the policy, it is falling out of favor amongst school administrators and the public eye. This is because the many benefits that the policy-supporters usually extol fall flat when faced with recent reports of its effectiveness – or rather, lack thereof.

The Facts About It

The fact is that most schools who have the policy are only the top-tier business schools (of the top ten business schools in the country, seven have or had this policy at some point or in some form), indicating a sense of entitlement. It is as if it is one more privilege endowed upon elite schools.

Another fact is that in a recent survey by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the policy actually reduces performance by students. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, the report revealed, “without grades students have little incentive to work hard and come to class prepared.”

The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business has had the policy instituted over the past four years; although it has always been a point of contention between students and faculty. There, the new report found that, “the amount of time spent on academics fell by 22 percent in the first four years after grade nondisclosure was implemented, and course selection by students was unchanged.” That means that the policy actually hurt the motivation of the students, and the students were still not challenging themselves with more difficult courses. This seriously calls into question the integrity of the policy, and those that instituted it.

Neither did it foster a collaborative atmosphere. It turns out the students still competed with each other in small circles, and still competed for jobs with the entire class.

A Policy for the Privileged

Louis Lavelle, writer at Bloomberg Businessweek, powerfully summed up the feelings the new report fomented by writing, “highly ranked business programs–where in the absence of grades everyone gets the benefit of the doubt, and where in the absence of minimum certification requirements slackers will never get caught – are probably the only place in the ivory tower where something like grade nondisclosure can flourish.”

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