A former Cornell University student who still struggles with debt three years after his graduation spoke out against earning degrees in finance or management during Friday’s Occupy Cornell protest. Business degrees, he said, encourage the economic disparities that surround the occupations around the country and create a myth that hard work automatically achieves success. But what is more troubling about the process behind earning a graduate business degree is the prevalence of grade nondisclosure policies and the unintended effects they are having on students.
A recent study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research stated there was an overall decline in study habits at elite business schools. At the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School for example, 22 percent of students spend less time on academics during the four years after the institution had enacted the policy.
Arguments for declining to posts grades when applying to companies included decreased attention to extra curricular activities and field experience. Students earning MBA degrees also contested that they were being punished for taking challenging courses and producing lower grade point averages than their higher ranking peers. But it seems that nondisclosure of grades has had the opposite effect on graduate students at business schools, taking away their motivation after they have been accepted into big name programs.
Though the grade nondisclosure system is having an adverse effect on students, it has not seemed to affect the institutions themselves. According to the study, seven of the top-10 ranked business schools U.S. News & World Report’s most recent list have some kind of policy in place where withholding grades from potential employers is permitted. But no school ranked 20th-50th has any type of grade nondisclosure policy.
The idea of creating an option for including GPA on job applications is slowly spreading to other prominent institutions. The Columbia Business School adopted a grade nondisclosure policy that encouraged students to put 0.0 in the GPA section of an application if asked for it.
With the nondisclosure policies currently in place I would have to wonder whether a company would assume the reluctance of a student to submit grades as an indicator of a poor academic history. Most students who earn a place on the Dean’s List or President’s List are very proud of their academic accomplishments and boast about them on resumes and cover letters. Those who receive lower grades however, are more willing to focus on leadership positions or organizations they were a part of during their graduate experience while playing down the importance of their performance in the classroom.