Hypercompetitive overachievers bet on their own academic success
By Matt Flegenheimer
By late May, rising
"I mean, I got the grades," Migliacci recalled, sighing, "but lost the bet."
Since last fall, Migliacci has been wagering on his grades through a website called Ultrinsic.com, founded by former
To the latter end, as hypercompetitive classmates scoured campus for an academic edge, Migliacci began his semester with a pre-emptive hedge: that he'd finish with a 3.0 GPA or lower.
"I wasn't wagering enough to motivate me not to do well," Migliacci said. "But at least I'd walk away with some money if I didn't."
Soon, thousands of students nationwide will have access to the same choice. After a soft launch at
Now operating from an office in
Gelbart, who graduated from
"Students like learning, but it's work," said Gelbart, president of Ultrinsic. "People want to see an immediate payoff for that hard work."
Most participants opt for success-based bets, Gelbart said, and not the grade insurance. This model of motivation, he said, compels students to assign proper value to long-term academic goals they may neglect — say, learning the material — by distracting them with short-term payoffs.
"The point of the site is to push yourself," he said.
Gelbart and Wolf set odds on a given wager according to an algorithm they've developed over the past two years. Among the factors: the student's academic history (account-holders must turn over a transcript copy when they sign up); the reputation of the course or courses in question; and how much money the student intends to put up — the more someone bets, the founders reason, the more likely he is to do well.
"It doesn't seem that difficult to beat the lines," said Migliacci, who, despite his GPA overstep in the spring, has made about
Indeed, to some experts, Ultrinsic's economics don't compute. How can the site know students better than they know themselves?
"If people have a better idea whether they'll do well, they can use that to their advantage," he said.
Others in higher education are wary of the site's attitude towards academia.
"This is not what real education is about," said
"I guess we like to think our students are a little more mature than that," he said.
For many students, having to surrender private academic records is a deal-breaker.
Others worry that the grade insurance option in particular will carry indirect, negative consequences if Ultrinsic spreads to their campuses. "What if a guy on my group project was betting against himself?" asked
Whether Ultrinsic constitutes a "betting" site, though, is a matter of debate.
Representatives from state offices in
Gelbart insists the site is more motivator than moneymaker.
"This is not in the same category (because) it's completely in the student's control," Gelbart said. "There are elements of chance, but if you study harder, you'll do well."
Ultrinsic's philosophy, Gelbart added, "is definitely going to be implemented in the future of education."
Those operating in the present of education remain unconvinced.
"By their logic, you should buy a hit on yourself," Nassirian said. "Would that motivate you to do well?"
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