High School Graduate GPA Inflation

Though there was little data at the state level on high school GPAs/grade inflation, several recent national studies conducted by ACT, Inc.[1] and National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) [2] explore high school grade inflation. 

Where possible, we compare these national studies to CSU’s freshman profile[3] to better understand the extent to which the university may be experiencing grade inflation.

In May 2022, ACT investigated this topic using high school GPAs derived from self-reported course grades from 2010-2021 ACT-tested high school graduating classes. Every 10 years, NCES conducts a High School Transcript Study (HSTS). 

Table 1. Average High School GPA by Reporting Entity

NCES data reported for 2009 and 2019

Reporting Entity 2010 2012 2012 2016 2018 2020 Change 2010-2020
CSU 3.59 3.62 3.65 3.67 3.69 3.74 +0.15 (4.2%)
ACT 3.22 3.24 3.25 3.22 3.28 3.37 +0.17 (5.3%)
NCES* 3.00 3.11 +0.11 (3.7%)


When comparing these studies to CSU’s Freshman Profile (see Table 1), some conclusions which may be drawn:

  • The average GPA of CSU’s freshmen tend to be about 0.4 and 0.6 grade points higher than the average reported by ACT and NCES, respectively.
  • Across all three sources, the average high school GPAs of students have been increasing over time, and CSU’s level of increase is within the range of the two national studies.

o   CSU’s average high school GPA of new admitted freshmen in 2010 was 3.59. By 2020, the average GPA increased to 3.74, an increase of 0.15 grade points (4.2%).

o   According to ACT, inc., the average high school GPA of students taking the ACT in 2010 was 3.22. By 2020, average GPA increased to 3.37, an increase of 0.17 grade points (or 5.3%).

o   According to the NCES, the average high school graduate GPA in 2009 was 2.68. By 2019, the average GPA increased to 3.11, an increase of 0.11 grade points (3.7%).

  • CSU and ACT showed a relatively substantial increase in average high school GPAs between 2018 and 2020 compared to previous years.



[1] Sanchez, E. I. & Moore, R. (2022). Grade inflation continues to grow in the past decade. ACT, Inc.

[2] U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) High School Transcript Study, various years, 1990–2019.

[3] Colorado State University Institutional Research, Planning and Effectiveness. Freshman profile