Diversity and Democracy

How Grade Point Average Correlates to Various Personal Characteristics

As an indicator of student learning, grade point average is a perennially suspect category. Nonetheless, college GPA can play an important role in graduates' future success, whether in advanced education or in the job market. A consideration of how personal factors correlate to grade point average reveals potentially problematic relationships between students' personal characteristics and their eventual college success.

Figure 1: Grade Point Average by Parents' Highest Education Level

Figure 1

Figure 1 suggests that college students whose parents had higher levels of education were significantly more likely to have higher GPAs than their first-generation-student peers. Sixty-two percent of students with doctoral-degree-holding parents had at least a 3.0, compared with 53 percent of students whose parents had only a high school diploma. Similarly, Figure 2 suggests that students at the highest income level were significantly more likely than those at the lowest income level to have GPAs of at least 3.0 (56 percent versus 44 percent, respectively). Insofar as GPA relates to future economic and educational opportunities, the data suggest that disparities in GPA may contribute to perpetuating inequity for low-income and first-generation students.

Figure 2: Grade Point Average by Family Income, Dependent Students

Figure 2

Although multiple studies have explored these correlations for different student groups and in different contexts, data for the graphs shown here come from the U.S. Department of Education's National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (2008). To learn about the study's data collection process, which includes institutional and government data and online interviews, visit nces.ed.gov/surveys/npsas/about.asp.


U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. 2008. 2007-08 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS:08).nces.ed.gov/datalab/quickstats/

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