Money Can’t Buy Me…May, 2017

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.

  1. Factory, Martha Wainwright
  2. This Must Be the Place, Iron & Wine
  3. Lola, the Raincoats
  4. Sleepwalking (Couples Only Dance Prom Night), Modest Mouse
  5. Everything is Free, Gillian Welch
  6. I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, Richard & Linda Thompson
  7. Something on Your Mind, Karen Dalton
  8. (David Bowie I Love You) Since I Was Six, Jessica Lee Mayfield
  9. I Got Up, Linda McCartney
  10. Somebody Made For Me, Emit Rhodes
  11. I Must Be in a Good Place Now, Bobby Charles
  12. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, Neutral Milk Hotel
  13. Teeth White, the Staves
  14. Range Life, Pavement
  15. I Think I need a New Heart, Magnetic Fields
  16. Uncast Shadow of a Southern Myth, Parquet Courts
  17. I’ll Try Anything Once, Julian Casablancas
  18. Sick as a Dog, Hamilton Leithauser+Rostam
  19. Let’s Dance, M. Ward
  20. Space Song, Beach House
  21. Lost and Lookin’, Sam Cooke
  22. Strange, Patsy Cline
  23. Casimir Pulaski Day, Sufjan Stevens
  24. Blood Red Sentimental Blues, Cotton Jones
  25. Just Like Honey, The Jesus and Mary Chain
  26. The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
  27. Gold, Iggy Pop

4 thoughts on “Money Can’t Buy Me…May, 2017

  1. Great post! So a few thoughts:

    1) Hierarchy of needs. Some of these students may not be motivated in their classes because their motivations/energy are being focused on more basic needs. They may be working a couple of months to make sure they can afford food, rent, utilities, transportation, etc. Along these same lines, while it’s logical to ask why they’re not putting more effort into something that they’re taking out thousands in loans for, those loan payments will start in a few years; their phone will get cut off if they don’t pay the $75 bill next week. Immediacy of need and time-frame of deadlines may guide their decision making.

    2) Sunk costs. Once that payment deadline has passed and they’ve already given the school their money, the financial incentive greatly diminishes. Unless they have to maintain a GPA for a scholarship or complete a certain number of hours for things like Pell, there is not as much financial incentive to do well. If they’re not worried about their GPA, what’s the difference between a W and a WF or a C and an F? The money’s gone either way, and aside from return on investment, there’s no financial difference to them based on the outcome of the course.

    3) Pressures for being there. Given that school is clearly not their priority, they may feel pushed to be there even though they don’t really care about their classes. Whether you’re talking parents’ expectations, societal pressure of getting a college degree to get into a career field, etc., they may be going to college to appease some group even though they aren’t putting in a sincere effort in their classes.

      1. I have comments on the music choices! :p

        I totally agree with Beach House (and dream pop in general) for doing work. Check out the EP they put out after Depression Cherry if you haven’t already, it’s great!

        I dig the Sufjan too, but isn’t Casimir Pulaski Day really sad for doing work to? I tend to go with Age of Adz, or some of the more upbeat stuff from Illinois (ex: Man of Metropolis). Speaking of Sufjan, his new album, Planetarium, is going to be bonkers.

      2. I’ll check out Depression Cherry–haven’t yet.

        As for “sad”…the previous commenter can tell you I’m notorious for being able to “zone out” on the lyrics of the song to which I am listening. I regularly will listen to Iron&Wine, or the Smiths, or some lyrically-depressing stuff and just not notice.

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