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TribBlog: Gambling on Grades? [Updated]

Confident that you could cruise through every class at UT? Want to bet on it? Seriously, you can.

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Confident that you could cruise through every class at the University of Texas? Want to bet on it?  Seriously, you can., a website that allows students to put money down on the likelihood of achieving their academic aspirations, has expanded to three Texas universities: the University of Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech.

The basic principle is easy enough to grasp: the higher the grade, the longer the odds, the bigger the reward. Students can set goals for individual courses, the entire semester’s worth of work or even their whole college careers. The students choose the amount of the reward (initially, there's a $25 cap) and put in some of the money while Ultrinsic puts in the rest. If they hit their target grade, they take the whole pot. If they don’t, they lose their contribution. Students can also buy grade insurance, so they can still make a little money even if they unexpectedly bomb a test or two.

The boldest of freshman can throw in $20 and, if they maintain a 4.0 grade point average throughout their entire college career, come away with $2,000 after graduation.

The company views its service as an academic aid, arguing that a monetary incentive can make the difference between going to sleep or staying up a little longer and hitting the books a little harder. One thing it is not, says chief operating officer and partner Judah Guber, is gambling; it requires skill, not chance, in order to succeed. “The closest thing I can compare it to is investing in a company, only you have more control over the outcome,” Guber says.

It is incumbent upon participating students to submit their transcripts for verification. Guber says that Ultrinsic does not coordinate or work with the administrations at the 36 universities it services. But he adds — without any specifics — that his interactions with university officials have been positive. 

When asked if the business benefited from more students failing to reach their lofty marks, Guber said, “No, I don’t think so. Some students will meet their goals, and some won’t. We’re just here to provide incentives.”

As students prepare to go back to school, Ultrinsic is garnering significant media attention and, it claims, widespread interest. When it expanded from two colleges to 36 this summer, Guber said the company set a goal of about 100 participants per school. He says, “I think we’ve already blown out of the water.”

Update (4:06 p.m.):
"For now, this really isn't an issue for us," says Texas A&M University spokeswoman Sherylon Carroll, who his not aware of any students using Ultrinsic. "This is not something we would highly encourage our kids to do," she says. "It's just not. We think our students are bright and talented. They committed to academic excellence and have their own internal incentives and other tools to continue to thrive."

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Higher education Texas A&M University-College Station