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The Grade Game

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The Grade Game

Virginia Pavlick

Come Sunday night, many university students are looking at another long, hard week. A full class load, work, volunteering, and extracurricular activities can keep the average college student at full capacity, both physically and mentally. When time is running short and stress over grades is running high, it can be tough for many students to resist succumbing to an easy solution. Whether for a particularly tough and point-heavy assignment or for an exam, the popularity of for-profit tutoring companies among college students is now at an all-time high.

The cost of college tuition continues to rise each year. With additional costs for textbooks, housing, meal plans, and incidental costs added in, the final price tag is tremendous, and enough to laden 71% of college graduates with student loan debt. While a quality education certainly holds value for all graduates in the working world, transcripts and GPAs now distinguish the top few percent. When summer internships and elite post-graduate positions are on the line, students are willing to call in outside help to make the grade. In this recent article published by The Chronicle of Higher Education, author Jeffrey Young addresses the flashy marketing that draws in students—and their money.

Two for-profit tutoring companies, Chegg and Studypool, play off of students’ two main desires that are often in conflict with one another.

“Both Chegg and Studypool have edgy marketing campaigns that make light of the balance students face between their academic and social lives. One ad for Studypool shows a split screen of two photographs. On one side, a student sits in a library, under the caption ‘Didn’t ask Studypool’; on the other side, two students lie on the beach in bikinis, with the caption ‘Asked Studypool’".

And while there is certainly an argument surrounding the underlying point of such companies (i.e. purchasing an easy A vs. truly learning the course material), our biggest concern at MyloWrites is the potential for stark inequality between students. For those who can afford to shell out the additional funds for tutoring services, no harm no foul. But for those who can’t, and perhaps are also working part-time to help pay tuition, the game just got extremely unfair.

In classes with a “curve,” that grade boost is now significantly lower due to the potentially inflated grades of the students who were able to benefit from extra tutoring. Some universities, like the NYU Stern School of Business, even force a normal bell-curve for grade distribution, meaning that students compete directly against one another to secure one of the ten or so allotted A-grade slots.

One of our founding principles at MyloWrites is a belief that supportive resources and quality education should be available to all. Tutoring is an excellent resource that each and every student should have access to. As mentioned in the article, free tutoring centers at universities suffer from poor marketing and low awareness. So what can be done?

Penn State is addressing the problem through a “rebrand” of the college tutoring organization, including updated methods of accessing the resource and social media marketing. Other universities are taking the “if you can’t beat them, join them” approach by partnering with for-profit tutoring companies and paying a substantial part of the cost for students. Either method has the potential to suppress the prevalence of for-profit tutoring companies, though it requires an honest recognition of the presence of paid tutoring on individual campuses. For-profit tutoring companies can hardly be banned or prevented. In order to keep access to extra help truly equitable, universities must do a better job communicating offerings for students and responding to student needs in real time.