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Website Allows Students to Wager on Grades

August 12, 2010

by Agnes Jasinski

What motivates you to study for your exams? Is it the potential for a good grade or high GPA? Is it the guilt of paying thousands of dollars for that college education? What if you could score some cash—and not in the form of scholarships and grants, as we hope you’re doing already—for doing well in your courses?

A site that has been making the rounds in the media lately offers just that. Ultrinsic.com is based on the premise that students should be rewarded for doing well academically and for meeting their own high expectations. The site allows students at 36 colleges so far to place bets on how well they think they’ll do in their college classes. If they make the grade, they win money based on a calculated “handicap”; if they don’t, they lose whatever they wagered. The starting limit on what students will earn is $25, and the better the students do, the more they win. (The higher the risk, the higher the payoff, as in most gambling situations.)

College officials are understandably concerned. In an article posted on eCampus News this week, the CEO of the site Steven Wolf says it isn’t about gambling but about providing students with an incentive to do well. Furthermore, it doesn’t fit the criteria for online gambling, he says, because students have control over what they win and how they do in their courses.

There are studies out there that show that students do better on tests if they’re promised payment in return for a good score. An Inside Higher Ed article yesterday points to several. One Stanford University professor found that paying elementary- and middle-school aged students to do well on standardized tests had as positive an effect as other proven strategies. Ultrinsic hasn’t seen widespread support for its methods among academics, though, despite Wolf’s insistence that they’re out there. A Harvard University professor says in the Inside Higher Ed article that the idea would be “better left in the hands of colleges” rather than a business. A business’ purpose is, after all, to make money.

What do you think about betting on your grades? Would you try harder in your classes, knowing that there was some money to win or lose on the line? Let us know if you have experience using this site or others like it.


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