Many top business schools, including the one across the river, practice grade non-disclosure, meaning that employers do not take students’ grades into consideration when recruiting. Although implementation varies between schools, the schools’ career centers generally remind employers not to inquire about grades, and the student governments effectively “unionize” students into not sharing them. It is time for the Kennedy School to adopt a similar policy.
There are several reasons why business schools employ grade non-disclosure. A significant amount of learning and professional development occurs outside of the classroom. Students should be encouraged to devote time to extracurricular activities rather than focusing on problem sets. An overemphasis on academics results in a less holistic HKS experience, which benefits neither students nor the school. Grade non-disclosure would provide a psychological safety net that allows students to pursue their passions and liberate them to take greater risks.
Grades can hinder the classroom experience by discouraging students from enrolling in a “harder” course. KNET discloses each course’s workload and “academic rigor,” and it would be a disservice if we discouraged students from taking a course they were passionate about because they were worried about their GPA. Furthermore, the Kennedy School’s strict grading curve ensures that classmates are in competition over a fixed pool of A’s. Grade non-disclosure would alleviate competition and promote greater collaboration and cooperation.
The traditional counterargument is that grade non-disclosure will result in reduced academic commitment and disengaged students who skip class and do not complete readings. After all, a 2011 study by the Natural Bureau of Economic Research concluded that Wharton MBA students spent 22% less time on academics four years after grade non-disclosure was implemented. The paper also discusses the impact on signalling, and mentions that such schools “reduce the accuracy of their signal by passing grade non-disclosure policies.”
However, that argument misses the point. Graduate schools serve a much larger purpose than solely the classroom experience. The Kennedy School would benefit from encouraging students to experiment, network, and collaborate with peers on activities outside the classroom that broaden their perspectives and horizons. Election Day 2016 comes to mind, when many students were hesitant to volunteer or get-out-the-vote because of class attendance policies.
Furthermore, the view that this would result in less-engaged students does not withhold scrutiny. We are all Harvard students who, in addition to achieving strong GMAT/GRE scores, have demonstrated a passion and conviction for education and public service. We would not be here today if we were not intrinsically self-motivated. Professor Brian Mandell has made it clear that we are paying $8 per minute of class time. Few of us would skip class or disengage from it without strong justification.
Employers don’t prioritize grades when recruiting. A survey by the Graduate Management Admissions Council revealed that GPA was far down on the list of factors that employers consider to be important when screening new recruits. Much higher on that list were initiative, creativity, and goal-orientation—all of which students could develop with the freedom of grade non-disclosure.
Some schools with grade non-disclosure reach a compromise solution, where they publicize a Dean’s List or Honor Roll (say, the top 10% of students). This would satisfy and reward students who are invested in their grades, and would allow employers to identify who the top students are. It would also give the faculty some comfort that students would take class seriously.
The Kennedy School has always been an educational pioneer. However, enabling employers to screen students by grades is a disservice to the school and its students. Grade non-disclosure would facilitate a broader, more holistic, more collaborative educational environment. Although it is rare among policy schools, the Kennedy School should once again lead the way by employing grade-non disclosure.