We’ve all known our fair share of incredibly smart people who earn bad grades simply because they’re lazy when it comes to attending class and studying.
If they’re motivated by money, though, Ultrinsic might serve as some encouragement. Last fall, the new website began taking wagers on grades from students at 36 colleges.
With bets starting at $25, Ultrinsic lets college students wager on whether they can achieve or exceed a certain grade. The student puts up some of the money and the company fronts the rest with more for A’s, slightly less for B’s, and so on, explains the Los Angeles Times. The amount is also moderated by information such as the student’s past academic record and the difficulty of the class.
If the student makes the grade, he or she gets to keep all of the money. If they fall short of the mark, though, the company keeps the money that the student contributed. Ironically, students can also bet that they’ll fail a class, buying something called “grade insurance.”
Co-founders Steven Wolf and Jeremy Gelbart came up with the idea for Ultrinsic after a $20 bet that Jeremy wouldn’t get an A on an upcoming test. The money was enough incentive for him to prove his friend wrong by studying. Not only did he earn an A, he won 20 bucks in the process.
“I know at times it’s tough to study,” said Gelbart, Ultrinsic’s president and a graduate of Queens College of the City University of New York. “You want something now for it, not just a job in the future,” reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.
“The students have 100% control over it, over how they do. Other people’s stuff you bet on — your own stuff you invest in,” Wolf told the Associated Press when questioned about some people’s concern over the legality of gambling for grades. “Everything’s true about it, I’m just trying to say that the underlying concept is a little bit more than just making a bet – it’s actually an incentive.”
At least one legal professional shares his sentiments. Lloyd D. Levenson, a gaming attorney with the Cooper-Levenson firm in Atlantic City, is quoted by the New Jersey Star-Ledger. “It’s not gambling if it’s about skill and it’s not about luck. Gambling has to have the element of chance. The only variable that doesn’t have to do with skill is how a teacher might evaluate. But for the most part, you’re in control of your own destiny,” he said in August 2010.
I. Nelson Rose, a gambling law expert and professor at Whittier Law School in California, does not completely agree. “It’s not entirely within the control of the (player),” Rose says, offering the example of a professor of his who gave everyone A’s after learning he wouldn’t be considered for tenure. Another teacher could be equally capricious in handing out C’s, explains the Associated Press article about Ultrinsic. "But it is mostly within their control,” he relents.
Some educators worry that the site will aggravate so-called "grade grubbing”—an obsession with letter grades they say is already a problem on college campuses—which could in turn push professors to artificially inflate grades to avoid more nagging from students. Alexander C. McCormick, director of the National Survey for Student Engagement, says he’s also worried that gambling on grades could encourage more cheating, reports the Los Angeles Times.
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Wolf and Gelbart piloted their idea with a different model that put students enrolled in the same course in direct competition with each other. About 600 students from the University of Pennsylvania and New York University made wagers on Ultrinsic.
In August 2010, Wolf said that the company had not received resistance from schools whose students are able to participate. Emily Aronson, spokeswoman for Princeton University, said the school generally does not comment on outside extracurricular activities in which students participate, but it does "expect students to abide by all state and federal laws as noted in the university’s ‘Rights, Rules and Responsibilities’ policy document for all members of the campus community,” reports the New Jersey Star-Ledger.
Ultrinsic urges users to encourage friends to sign up and perform well in their classes. Each person referred automatically gets $5 added to their Ultrinsic account, and the original user will collect the equivalent of 5% of their friend’s winnings as long as they use the site. “There’s no limit to the amount of money you can make!” Ultrinsic promises.
Sounds sketchy, but hey— it might get some students to study.
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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