Looking back at my education years, I was a pretty good student (Except for a D+ in Chemistry). I probably had an overall average of a B+ and made several appearances on the honor roll. Like many students, my reward for this extra effort in my studies was a few gold stars on my tests, some “nice job!” notes in the margins of my reports and a parental pat on the back. If I did well at school, my dad would tell me “good, that’s your job.” But things might be changing. Soon you might be able to trade in your gold stars for cash. Several education organizations across the United States are experimenting with cash incentives for students. The debate is raging on both sides. Are cash rewards a motivation tool or bribery? So far the cash for grades experiment is getting good results. In particular, cash rewards are persuading low-income students to stay in school and get better grades.

Combining Cash For Grades with Counseling

Studies have shown that the cash incentives work well on their own. But when combined with counseling, the program created “real hope” for low-income students. Funded by the Louisiana Department of Social Services and the Louisiana Workforce Commission, two Louisiana community colleges participated in a program that combined cash for grades with counseling.

To participate in the program, students had to enroll in community college at least half-time and maintain a C average or higher. Their reward: $1,000 a semester for up to two semesters. A study conducted by the social-policy research group MDRC (Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation) found that participating students were more likely to:

  • Earn more credits.
  • Register for the second semester of school with the program (30%).
  • Enroll in a college after the two-term program.
  • Attain a C average or higher.
  • Have more positive feelings about themselves and their future.

Low Graduation Rates

But grades are just part of the problem. Although college enrollment has climbed across the United States, college graduation rates have not. One-half of all undergraduates in the U.S. attend community college. But only a third of these students earn a degree that can improve their quality of life and future earning potential.

Statistic: Best community and career colleges in the U.S. in 2018/19, by mid-career salary | Statista
Best community and career colleges in the U.S. in 2018/19, by mid-career salary. Chart via Statista.

This shocking statistic has attracted several philanthropic organizations, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Thanks to a grant from the Gates Foundation, a cash for grades test is currently being planned at community and state colleges in California, New Mexico, New York, and Ohio.


Arguments From Both Sides

Like with anything, you will always have people who try to game or cheat the system. One concern from critics is that students will only take easier classes so they can get the grades required for the cash rewards.

On the other hand, cash incentives might help part-time students justify the hours and costs required for school. Many students in community college have families, bills and other financial responsibilities. Adding tuition and books on top of the hours spent at school vs working can often drive a student to drop out.

So college students should have separate considerations applied than high school, middle school and grade school students.

Cash For Grade Is A Great Idea

Is paying students for grades really that bad of an idea? Would you go to work every day for free? Probably not. What’s wrong with starting those payments a little early and teaching students how to work hard for a reward?

Personally, I love the idea. If I could have earned money for a better grade in Chemistry, I would have definitely studied harder. Actually, I wish I could have earned money for all the hours I spent playing Oregon Trail in middle school. Hopefully, these tests are successful and cash for grades becomes a standard part of our education system.