Cornell Debates Grade Non-Disclosure Policy

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.


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 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.”


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.


  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?