Theoretically, students should go to school and learn simply for the sheer love of learning and the knowledge that studying hard will eventually land them a good paying job (though that assumption is getting harder and harder to prove in these current economic times).
But is learning for the love of learning and a promise of a brighter future enough?
Or, should we pay our students to learn?
Isn’t Paying Them Just a Form of Bribery?
Some may argue that paying students to get good grades, whether they are elementary, middle school, high school or even college students, is akin to bribery. These people worry that students will always expect a reward for every good action and test and that they won’t be intrinsically motivated to study just for the sake of learning.
While there is some truth to this concern, the simple fact is that not everyone is a good student.
Typically, there are those who learn easily, and as such, enjoy it. I have not paid my son for good grades, but he loves to learn. He is a voracious reader and reads in his free time. If he had trouble reading and struggled with school, I just might pay him to get good grades.
For some students, even older ones, struggling through just for a future promise of a good job is a lot to ask.
Paying College Students Has Been Proven to Make a Difference
Even more importantly, research has shown that paying students for good grades can make a difference in their success.
“The social-policy research group MDRC, a nonpartisan organization,” states that “cash incentives combined with counseling offered ‘real hope’ to low-income and nontraditional students at two Louisiana community colleges. The program for low-income parents. . .was simple: enroll in college at least half-time, maintain at least a C average and earn $1,000 a semester for up to two terms. Participants, who were randomly selected, were 30% more likely to register for a second semester than were students who were not offered the supplemental financial aid. And the participants who were first offered cash incentives in spring 2004. . .were also more likely than their peers to be enrolled in college a year after they had finished the two-term program” (TIME).
Paying Students Might Keep Them Motivated to Succeed
The repercussions as a society for children who do not do well in school or who drop out are serious. A full 16 percent of students ages 16 to 24 dropped out of high school in 2007 (CNN). The New York Times offers a more sobering statistic, “Only 7 of 10 ninth graders today will get high school diplomas.”
What happens to these drop outs?
Many become parents at a young age, and to provide for a family on a minimum wage salary is very difficult to do. Others turn to a life of crime, and then we as a society must pay for their incarceration.
In turn, if those dropouts can make it through and graduate, they “will obtain higher employment and earnings – an astonishing 50 percent to 100 percent increase in lifetime income – and will be less likely to draw on public money for health care and welfare and less likely to be involved in the criminal justice system. Further, because of the increased income, the typical graduate will contribute more in tax revenues over his lifetime than if he’d dropped out” (New York Times).
If they can graduate from high school, they will be much more likely to contribute to the system through taxes rather than draw from it in the form of welfare.
Of course, paying students for good grades is not the only solution to the high dropout rate.
However, if there is a student who is wavering between dropping out and staying in school, perhaps a payment for good grades can help compel him to stay in school.
Chicago public schools are betting that monetary payment will make the difference for students.
Under a program in conjunction with Harvard University, students at 20 public schools receive $50 for an A, $35 for a B and $20 for a C. The payments are made after every 5 week grading cycle. “Students are understandably enthusiastic about the program, and it seems to be working: 86% of students at the top-achieving school took home some money during the last grading interval” (Newser).
Paying students for good grades is a controversial topic.
However, more and more high schools and community colleges are offering a structured payment program with success. At a smaller level, as a parent, you may decide rewarding your kids with good grades is a smart decision which can help encourage them to work harder and succeed.
And if you don’t want to hand out the cash, you could always reward them with free rewards that businesses offer such as free meals or movie rentals.