Cornell Debates Grade Non-Disclosure Policy

by John A. Byrne on

Cornell University’s Johnson School of Business is apparently debating the merits of a grade non-disclosure policy for MBA students, even after a task force of students and faculty decided last semester to continue revealing letter grades.

According to The Cornell Daily Sun today (April 4), the task force spent nearly a year studying the impact of grade non-disclosure policies and also interviewed alumni, students and corporate recruiters who hire Johnson MBAs.

‘POOR GRADES ARE NOT ALWAYS A REFLECTION OF A LACK OF EFFORT’

Johnson School Student Council President José Gaztambide told the student newspaper that he questioned the administration’s policy on grade disclosure, saying that poor grades are not always a reflection of a lack of effort on the part of students. He believes it can be difficult to balance academics with job searches, the paper reported.

“The second half of first semester is when the more difficult core classes start, networking really picks up and recruiters start coming to campus,” Gaztambide was quoted saying.

Another MBA student, Richa Sood, said that some students feel that the academic pressure that results from grade disclosure can diminish the quality of the Johnson School experience. “[Grade disclosure] takes away from getting to know your classmates and getting to know what’s going on in the business world,” she told the newspaper.

Though non-disclosure policies are rare to non-existent at medical and law schools, they have gained ground on business school campuses largely via student referendums. Nine of the most selective MBA programs in the U.S. now have some form of a grade non-disclosure policy, including Stanford, Chicago Booth, and Wharton. Yet, no schools ranked between 20 and 50 have such policies, according to the blog Freakonomics.

COLUMBIA BUSINESS SCHOOL PASSED A NON-DISCLOSURE POLICY LAST YEAR

Columbia Business School was the last major school to go with a non-disclosure policy that went into effect last summer. In a March 2011 referendum, in which 91% of MBAs and EMBAs participated, 77% of the student body voted to approve the non-disclosure of grades, GPAs, and transcripts to employers until a student accepts a full-time, post-graduation position with an employer.

When the Columbia policy was announced, Class of 2012 MBA student Philip Crouse defended the change in a statement issued on the school’s website. “We believe that grade non-disclosure promotes greater academic risk-taking, teamwork, experiential learning, and community building in the classroom, resulting in more well-rounded graduates, better employees, and stronger leaders,” Crouse said. “While each student has the legal right to determine whether or not to disclose his or her grades, the student body chose grade non‑disclosure as a collective norm.”

SURVEYS SHOW MBAS SPENT 22% LESS TIME ON ACADEMICS AFTER NON-DISCLOSURE POLICIES TAKE EFFECT

Faculty generally oppose the idea on the belief that many students won’t work as hard if they can hide behind a non-disclosure rule. Two Wharton economists who studied non-disclosure policies found that self-reported levels of learning have mostly fallen since the introduction of grade non-disclosure policies. Surveys showed that MBA students spent 22% less time on academics in the first four years after a school approves non-disclosure.

According to economists Daniel Gottlieb and Kent Smetters, such policies allow elite students a “free ride” because corporate recruiters are still going to meet the school’s median salary levels due to MBAs’ perceived value to their organizations. That’s less true at schools that are not considered elite by recruiters, which is why only students at elite schools tend to pass these policies.

“Students at elite schools are the most likely to adopt a non-disclosure policy, subsequently reducing their effort,” wrote Wharton’s Gottlieb and Smetters in an academic paper on the subject. “Intuitively, a non-disclosure policy allows the median voter to study less and then pool to receive the expected (mean) wage, which might be more valuable to her than receiving the median wage with effort. For plausible wage distributions, the desire to pool becomes more valuable at more selective schools. A vote for non-disclosure, however, allows the median voter to essentially “free ride” off of the expected pooled wage, which will be advantageous when there are enough students who are more productive than the median voter.

 

  • Johnny Doe

    As somebody matriculating at Johnson this Fall, I hope Johnson does adopt a non-disclosure policy. The added pressure to maintain A’s during core while recruiting for IB as a career-changer is not something I’m particularly looking forward to.  I also feel a non-disclosure policy will bring an already tight-knit community together even more.

  • Donald Scott

    Johnny Doe. A bit off topic, but I’m considering applying to Cornell this coming fall. Can I ask you your opinion of IB recruiting at Johnson? Do the major banks come? I would love to chat offline by email.

  • Jjabrams

    All top business schools will have a “mixed bag” of students – i.e. a few who just don’t have the intellectual horsepower to work at a top IB/MC. How are the recruiters supposed to differentiate such a candidate who knows how to ‘game’ the interview vs somebody that is truly worthy? This is a tough call.

  • anoncbs13

    At CBS and will say that GND has certainly promoted a very collegial and less competitive atmosphere. Sure, kids study less, but let’s be honest, Bschool isn’t about its academics. You attend Bschool to get access to a school’s rich network, alum database, and exit opportunities. Someone asked a question asking how banks and MC’s differentiate candidates, and honestly, there are several ways through which this can be done.
    1. Focus more on the students’ soft skills, which for IB/consulting, are arguably more valuable
    2. GND still allows for students to disclose whether or not they made Dean’s List.
    3. Banks (and I did banking recruiting) will ask more rigorous technical questions to weed out candidates

  • anoncbs13

    I’d think it would BB’s and maybe HSBC, Wells Fargo, etc. Don’t think many smaller shops (Moelis/Evercore/Lazad/GHL) would be big recruiters there.

  • Spearhead

    I am fortunate to be attending a top business school with a Grade Non-Disclosure policy.  GND fits the culture and purpose of a top MBA.  The vetting process to get into a top program ensures a baseline level of competency required of recruiters.  Beyond that, we all come to business school for different reasons ranging from academics to network building to career repositioning.  GND allows us to work on the area of personal growth where we individually will derive the most value – without being penalized.  GND allows us to custom tailor our business education.  -  without it, the clear distinction, and advantages, over other professional degrees would be lost.     

  • Spearhead

    I’m not sure it is possible to “game” a McKinsey or Goldman Sachs interview… These recruiters know what they are looking for.  

  • Matt C

    I can’t speak for IB but interviews at MBB type firms all required a preliminary exam to measure intellect.

  • Matt C

    Strictly speaking on the variable identified, intellect, (clearly there are other things recruitiers/interviewers look for — experience, leadership, etc) I guess I could see how you could ‘game’ that part of the interview.  How does MBB measure intellect?

    • GMAT Scores/undergrad gpa listed when applying
    • Initial pre interview test
    • Case study
    • Any more?

    If you got into a ‘top bschool’ GMAT and the initial test are/should be covered (since the test has somewhat similar ?s).  So as long as you can practice the case study method you may be able to ‘fake’ your intellect.  Obv other things are taken into consideration for a job offer but if you can pass those that 2.5 with GND isn’t so bad!  IMO of course.

  • Anon13

    If there’s GND, other factors could come into play. For instance, McKinsey loves very high GMAT scores.

    You can’t really “game” an MBB interview (banking interviews are much more arbitrary and personality-based). If you put off academics to study case-prep, youll be in a very good spot because you will be very well prepared and provide the answers that these types of interviews look for.

  • John Parcely

    “While each student has the legal right to determine whether or not to
    disclose his or her grades, the student body chose grade non‑disclosure
    as a collective norm.”

    Doesn’t the non-disclosure policy become moot once an employer makes grades part of the selection process?  Either the student attaches a transcript of his own free will, or he doesn’t, and therefore the job application is incomplete and he won’t be considered.  What can a non-disclosure policy do in this case? 

  • Matt C

    Students reveal grades to employers only after accepting a FT post-grad position.  You can disclose honors (Dean’s/Distinguished List) but as a student body agree not to disclose actual GPA’s.  Generally employers are privy to this so unless you lie to them and say you’re a Baker Scholar but have a 2.5 GPA they are alright with this.  Perhaps also top schools get away with this because they have some leverage due to the quality of their students/strong relationships w/employers (harder to replace an HBS/CBS/Wharton grad with other lower caliber programs — just a guess).  Again they can measure intellect other ways than just MBA GPA.

  • Tim Lee27

    I don’t buy into the argument that grade disclosure makes students more competitive.  
    At Kellogg we have a grade disclosure policy and we are definitely not competitive.  If anything, it enhances the academic experience because people try harder and participate more actively.  The issue of GND comes up every year and always seems to fizzle out.  It is the most prominent when people are stressed about recruiting.  Once everyone gets their internships people realize that grades don’t determine your MBA experience and.  If you want to take risks and really care that much about the ‘A’, you can always take a class pass/fail.. If you get an ‘A’, it shows up as an A on your transcript.  If not, it is a P.

  • Ik726

    Johnson has a great IB program with great placement across BBs and also middle market and boutiques. I heard that last year all interns got offers, I have not heard of any other school with that record!

  • Johnson_1st_year

    I’m currently a 1st year at Johnson, and this is true. Every IB intern received a full time offer. The IB hopefuls put in a bit more work than everyone else, but it tends to work out for them. I would reach out to some current IB students and ask them first hand, Cornell has a great program for bankers in place.

    Also, as someone currently going through our 1st half semester’s finals… yeah lets adopt a GND please.

  • Kernelian

    As a fellow Johnson 1Y I agree that the GNDP should be implemented. However, I believe the obsession over grades is in part a reflection of a slightly younger class (a number of students under 26 with less business experience; ergo, the grades theoretically count more) and an academically more capable class pushing the grades up (how people got #29 right in the econ final is remarkable). We are also a small, connected program, so everyone is more acutely aware of each others’ performance.

    I will also say that there are many of us who want to excel at Johnson but aren’t so emphatic about getting all As, realizing that there is more to an MBA experience than academics. I suspect these voices will increase during the second-half of the core.

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