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Paper: Professor Bias May Deflate Conservative College Students’ Grades

May 10, 2019 by

By Joy Pullmann –

Conservative students enter college with higher SAT scores and GPAs than liberal students, but by the fourth year of college have lower GPAs than liberal peers, which may be a consequence of institutional bias, finds a new working paper from the University of Arkansas.

Self-identified conservative students saw the biggest grade dip when studying in the humanities and social sciences, none when studying in professional fields, and an extra grade advantage when studying in hard-science fields. The bias was more pronounced at higher-ranked colleges and universities.

“Notwithstanding the GPA advantages held by conservative students in high school, students who support banning racist/sexist speech, and who endorse dissent as critical to the political process (positions typically associated with liberalism) enjoy a relative advantage over their peers,” the paper finds.

The authors controlled for students’ family income, SAT scores, and demographics, and repeatedly caution that the GPA effect is comparatively small, although statistically significant, and may have explanations other than professor bias. For example, since other social science has found conservatives tend to follow rules better and score lower on spontaneity and creativity, perhaps those characteristics make them a poorer fit for college or humanities programs.

Statistical analysis on a large database often used by researchers shows that “by the fourth year of college, liberal students tend to have higher grades than conservative peers: ideological self-placement is the only variable in the model changing direction from high school to college” (emphasis original), write paper authors Matthew Woessner of Penn State, Robert Maranto of U-Arkansas, and Amanda Thompson of the University of Georgia. The working paper from U-Arkansas’s Department of Education Reform has not yet been peer-reviewed nor published in an academic journal, but has been released to generate academic input pre-publication, it states.

The paper includes the graph below, showing that conservative students have the highest overall grades in high school, although lower writing and verbal SAT scores than liberal students. This also could reflect conservatives’ higher compliance levels, political biases in the verbal (less objective) portions of tests, neither, or both. Other research has found that high schools highly value compliance and that K-12 teachers award higher grades to more agreeable students and students more similar to them, which lowers boy’s grades compared to girls.

continue: Paper: Professor Bias May Deflate Conservative College Students’ Grades

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