On the one hand, it may seem honorable to be someone who “can’t be bought”. At the same time, some of the most dangerous people are those who have no currency.
I know, I know. Dr. Phil says “Everybody has a currency. If you want to create change, you have to identify somebody’s currency. Then, you can motivate them.” But surely there are exceptions to every rule?
I’ve been teaching a lot of lower-level classes this year (you take what you’re given) and there’s a degree of apathy among these students that I’ve never seen before. Each term I have multiple students–and by this I mean “at least two” and “up to 40% of the class”–who just don’t show up for lectures and/or in-class quizzes, or midterms, or even their final. Despite sending emails directly to the student or through the University’s “We care” program there’s little-to-no change [for those unaware, most universities now have an in-home system where you can alert students, their advisors, and/or the dean of students to any behavioral or academic issues]. You can write, “Please come to office hours” on a poor-performing assessment, but if they don’t show up for class in the first place do you really expect that to work? I regularly call the Disability Resource Center to ensure students have registered for their time-and-a-half on exams (and when they haven’t, I ask DRC to reach out since clearly my methods don’t take); I’ve called the Dean of Students office every single term about at least one student who’s fallen off the face of my earth. I feel like I care more about their performance and success in my class than they do.
What are these students’ currencies? How are they incentivized to study, or to try at the very least to earn a certain grade? I started thinking about the previous places at which I’ve worked to try to find the answer. Because honestly, this is foreign territory.
I decided to “follow the money”. Money is usually a very strong currency (literally). Doing the math, every class is worth a little over $150 (to calculate this, I took annual tuition, divided by number of terms per year, divided by number of classes for a full load, and divided by the number of class meetings. We really should alter this so that pre-requisites and major courses count more than “underwater basket weaving”, but we’ll just stick with the average). Certainly if I were paying $150+ per class, I’d be there!
So, how is tuition being paid?
UGA was a public school, and many students had most to all of their tuition covered through a state-wide scholarship called HOPE. Students needed to maintain a certain GPA (it used to be a 3.0. Now, it’s higher.) because they literally and figuratively didn’t want to “lose HOPE”. The BRCM was an exclusive, private school where tuition was 20% more than my salary. The traditional method of payment was “parental units”. So here you’d face kids petrified of disappointing their helicopter parents. And if parents were not a major source of funding, in some ways the students would be even MORE incentivized to make sure they earned good grades and worked their hardest. This place cost a pretty penny!
There’s an Illinois version of HOPE (though unlike Georgia’s I don’t think it’s paid for by the state lottery). Still, a lot of Chicago colleges are private, so the HOPE of Illinois isn’t going to put too much of a dent into tuition. It’s also not news that the state is struggling financially, and there have been serious talks about the program being slashed. So the UGA model is out.
My current institution takes pride in being a “blue-collar” university. Over a third of undergraduates qualify for Pell grants. So helicopter parents aren’t really a thing here. And while Pell grants also have a max/year, that max won’t cover too much at a private college. Intriguingly, though, they also aren’t loans: you don’t ever have to pay them back. So, maybe we’re on to something (but still, probably not. We’re talking at most like $5,000 a year. That buys little in Chicago.).
There really are only two other possibilities:
(1) the University is footing the bill. This was, for instance, how I made it through undergrad at a private college. I had a full academic ride. But to keep that, I had to keep my grades up–higher than the students who had only a 50% academic ride, for instance. Every year there would be 5 students awarded a FULL ride from the college; a few got my full academic package. More people got the 50% deal, but it definitely wasn’t “everyone in the college”–it couldn’t be for the place to stay in business. So, going back to my current situation, I doubt the University is shelling out *that* much money. A few students would be incentivized this way, but not many.
(2) the students are footing the bill with loans. With a loan (presumably, never had one myself), after a stage they may “forget” or “repress” how much debt they’re accruing. Maybe the debt is so high already they start to think, “What’s a few grand more?” They aren’t worried about paying it off–maybe they know and/or believe they’ll never really BE able to pay it off. Maybe they’re just not thinking about it…yet…because many loans repayments don’t start until after graduation. If regardless of grade you’re going into debt, then unless you have to spend more time in school, a “D” vs. an “A” doesn’t matter, right?
And so, what can I conclude from this in-depth blog analysis? Money is not the currency of my current students. In particular, paying for college is not encouraging them to do well in college. So, unless Dr. Phil is wrong (which I’m sure never happens), I’m going to have to go back to the drawing board.
Beyond definitely overthinking my life, I should mention that it has been hard for me too to stay motivated. I fear in some bizarre way the students are rubbing off on me. There’s been a lot going on to distract me from my work, and the work has been piling up; apathy has been a battle for me. I know I can’t allow apathy to win. I know despite my students’ complete lack of drive, I must not give in or give up and I must try not to allow them to give up or give in. It’s my job.
Anyway, here’s a mix that HAS actually led to me getting work done. For once, I’ll even give you an order.
- Factory, Martha Wainwright
- This Must Be the Place, Iron & Wine
- Lola, the Raincoats
- Sleepwalking (Couples Only Dance Prom Night), Modest Mouse
- Everything is Free, Gillian Welch
- I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, Richard & Linda Thompson
- Something on Your Mind, Karen Dalton
- (David Bowie I Love You) Since I Was Six, Jessica Lee Mayfield
- I Got Up, Linda McCartney
- Somebody Made For Me, Emit Rhodes
- I Must Be in a Good Place Now, Bobby Charles
- In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, Neutral Milk Hotel
- Teeth White, the Staves
- Range Life, Pavement
- I Think I need a New Heart, Magnetic Fields
- Uncast Shadow of a Southern Myth, Parquet Courts
- I’ll Try Anything Once, Julian Casablancas
- Sick as a Dog, Hamilton Leithauser+Rostam
- Let’s Dance, M. Ward
- Space Song, Beach House
- Lost and Lookin’, Sam Cooke
- Strange, Patsy Cline
- Casimir Pulaski Day, Sufjan Stevens
- Blood Red Sentimental Blues, Cotton Jones
- Just Like Honey, The Jesus and Mary Chain
- The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
- Gold, Iggy Pop