College Grade Point Average as a Predictor of Adult Success: A Meta-Analytic Review and Some Additional Evidence

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College Grade Point Average as a Predictor of Adult Success: A Meta-Analytic Review and Some Additional Evidence

The use of college grade point average (GPA) as a predictor of adult achievement has been debated. Prior reviews of this literature have relied on qualitative analysis to determine the usefulness of GPA in predicting future success. Since qualitative reviews are subject to our human information processing limitations, they often fail to provide definitive conclusions. This research uses meta-analytic techniques to review a substantial subset of the published research on this topic. The results generated are mixed. The overall analysis suggests that no relationship exists while subgroup analyses of success in business and success in teaching suggest that significant relationships do exist. Empirical analysis of an additional data set generally supports the finding of the meta-analysis. Three barely significant relationships are found. Based on the relative weakness of these relationships and confidence in the overall meta-analytic results, it is suggested that if a relationship does exist between GPA and job success it is tenuous at best. Since other more significant predictors of success are available, the use of GPA in this capacity is not recommended.

An issue of major importance to virtually every business is the ability to predict a priori which applicants will eventually prove to be successful employees. Several methodologies have evolved as predictors of subsequent job success. These include application blanks, biographical inventories, interviews, work sample tests, and intelligence, aptitude, and personality tests. Of these predictors, biographical data has been shown to be highly valid in predicting success (Asher, 1972; Reilly and Chao, 1982). One component often included in biographical inventories is scholastic achievement. This is usually measured by grade point average (GPA).

The potential gain from using the predictor with the highest validity is obvious. Given the threat of adverse impact litigation it is imperative that only validated predictors be used in making selection decisions. A side from the legal obligations, it is economically wise to select the employees who will return the greatest value to the firm. The validation process attempts to insure that a predictor does what it purports to do, i.e., selects applicants who subsequently are determined to be satisfactory on some criterion measure.

A highly valid predictor is not the only controlling factor. A firm must use the predictor which generates the greatest expected return over the tenure of those selected. The cost of using the predictor enters into this utility analysis. A highly valid predictor may be so expensive that the use of a less expensive predictor with lower but acceptable validity may be preferred (Schmidt, Hunter, McKenzie, & Muldrow, 1979). The use of college GPA as a predictor has certain appeal in that it is easily obtainable and virtually cost free. If it were shown to be valid in predicting job success, it would prove to be very useful in making selection decisions.

Over the last several decades many researchers have tested the relationship between college GPA and various measures of adult achievement. The most common criterion measures include job success in business, teaching, engineering, and medicine as measured by salary level and supervisory ratings. Other, less common measures include social activity, civic participation, cultural interests and general satisfaction.

Qualitative review of the published literature leads to confusion in stating the true effect of GPA as a predictor of later success. In some cases GPA is positively correlated with success on the job (Harrell, 1969, 1970, 1972; Harrell, Harrell, McIntyre, & Weinburg, 1974) while in other cases significant negative correlations are shown (Pfeffer, 1977; Jepson, 1951). A substantial volume of research has been conducted on this topic making a qualitative review cumbersome and imprecise. …