The website calls it "grade insurance." We call it gambling - and a pretty poor bet at that.
This month, a company called Ultrinsic started offering college students the chance to wager on their grades. The system seeks to skirt federal laws prohibiting online gambling by playing up the fact that students are largely in control of the results of their academic performance.
Largely, but not completely.
Ultrinsic, which is based in New York, allows students to sign up on its website, submit a class schedule and give permission for the company to access their personal school records. Ultrinsic will dredge up whatever information about the school and classes it can to set its odds, then offer the student a chance to bet on the outcome of his school career. The wagers reportedly start at a minimum of $25.
The system accepted students from two colleges - Penn and New York University - during the last academic year and this year will add 34 more U.S. schools to the list. The University of Montana and Montana State University, thankfully, are not yet among them.
The company insists it is not promoting gambling, but rather providing motivation, because students who study hard earn better grades - and cash is a powerful motivator. However, the company also allows students to bet that they will perform poorly in school. And anyone who has ever taken a college course knows that there are multiple factors beyond an individual student's control that could potentially influence grades. An unexpected injury or illness, for example, can derail an entire term.
Students who fail to take these elements of chance into account while placing bets with Ultrinsic could wind up paying a lot more than they bargained for.
Sure, this grade-betting game does rely on some degree of effort and skill - but so does poker, and online card rooms continue to be considered illegal. The practice of gambling for grades ought to be promptly denounced by colleges and stopped by state or federal legislation.