Education

Some college students have money riding on their grades

Posted May 4, 2011 6:08 p.m. EDT
Updated May 4, 2011 7:00 p.m. EDT

— A website allows students at 37 universities nationwide, including four in North Carolina, to gamble on their grades.

Ultrinsic.com bills itself as an "incentive program that allows college students to invest money in their future academic performance." Two New York college buddies created the site after a wager between them helped one get an A on an exam.

Students who go to the site can place bets on the grades they will get in any or all of their courses – they can even gamble on a parlay of several courses. The site calculates how much to charge a student's credit card based on the total "incentive" he or she will collect by earning the predicted grade.

The site even offers students a chance to buy insurance to limit their losses if a grade falls below the wagered mark.

"I don't really care if you call it gambling or an incentive – or if you call it a donkey," said Duke University freshman Eli Kozin, who gambled on all of his classes during the fall semester.

In addition to Duke, Ultrinsic accepts bets from students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University and Wake Forest University.

Kozin said he placed an $8 bet that he would get an A in statistics and made a parlay bet for his philosophy, sociology and writing classes.

"I chose a grade for each of those, and if I got all three, I believe it cost me about $15 to make that bet, but it would have been worth roughly $80 dollars," he said, adding that he lost both the parlay and the individual statistics bet.

"It wasn't that huge of factor, but kind of when I was, like, 'Should I go to the library right now, or should I watch some TV?' it was kind of just that extra push, the extra motivation to go and get up and walk over to the library and actually do some studying," he said.

It's unclear how many North Carolina college students have gambled with the site or how much money the company is making on the bets. Ultrinsic officials didn't return phone calls for comment.

Some professors and students said grades and gambling don't go together.

"Gut feeling, it just doesn't strike me as being right," said Paul Wiedmer, a Spanish teacher at N.C. State. "It does not do the student any good whatsoever, and I think that ultimately the people who run this website make money."

"I think the website is definitely using naivete and the fact that students want money. I mean, my age group is so focused on things like that, they don't think about the big picture," N.C. State senior Brianna Tracy said.

Other students disagreed, saying putting money on the line would motivate them to study harder.

"I think it would help a little bit having it hanging over my head, but ultimately the main deciding factor would be the difficulty of the class and the difficulty of my extracurriculars," N.C. State senior Ray Antonelli said.

"I'm a stats major. I know all about risk. I think I could manage that pretty well," N.C. State junior Ty Connors said. "You have to take a risk with anything."

Both UNC and N.C. State have sent cease-and-desist letters to Ultrinsic, warning the site that the schools don't want to be affiliated with grade gambling and don't want students giving out their passwords to access transcripts – a requirement for Ultrinsic to verify final grades.

Duke didn't issue a similar warning, and all three schools were listed on the site Monday.

"I would definitely try it again. I actually registered for courses (recently)," Kozin said.