Study: Kids’ Grades Can’t Be Bought


NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Offering your kids cash in exchange for good grades may not be the best investment.

A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Toronto and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that monetary incentives had only a modest effect on students’ academic performance.

Moreover, researchers found that once cash rewards were discontinued, there was little to no long-term effect on a student’s grades. In other words, parents have to keep paying to make sure their children maintain a higher GPA.

The study was commissioned by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, which wanted to look into whether or not offering additional merit scholarships to disadvantaged students would improve academic performance.

To complete the research, first-year and second-year students on financial aid at the University of Toronto-Scarborough were chosen via lottery to participate during the 2008-2008 school year. Participants were given money for grades above 70%. For each semester-long course, students received $100 for a grade average of 70%, and $20 for each percentage point above that.

The study found that while the incentive program did increase the amount of course grades above 70%, it did little to boost grades much higher than the 70% benchmark.

Researchers ultimately concluded that monetary incentives were “an expensive approach for trying to generate modest effects on retention and performance,” and that its small effect in the year after the scholarship offer ended was understandable “given that the program had small effects during the study period itself."

This was despite the fact that a majority of the participants initially believed the program would work. Half of the students reported being very concerned about having enough money to finish their degree.

The authors did suggest that ineffective study habits may have hampered academic achievement and that, in turn, the issue may be more a lack of academic preparation than a lack of effort (though the study points out that peer advisers were made available to students during the length of the study).

Researchers suggested that alternative teaching methods may be a more effective way to increase overall academic performance. They also said that “offering larger amounts of money or rewarding improvement on grades that are lower than 70% might lead to stronger effects.”

Either way, it sounds as if parents may not be getting what they paid for if they tried to motivate their children with cash only.

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