Pencils? 1 dollar. Notebook? 50 cents. Calculator? 20 dollars. Getting a high mark in that Economics class? Priceless.
We’ve heard that tag line a million times on various TV stations, but guess what? Getting that high mark in Economics? Not so priceless anymore.
In a recent investigation done by the Toronto Star, shocking facts were unearthed about “credit mills.”
But first, what exactly is the credit mill industry? Most commonly found in private schools, these sneaky school operations allow for kids to pay for higher marks to replace their less-than-stellar grades. Universities today are setting high standards, and kids are using these methods in order to achieve the best mark money can buy.
Findings from the newspaper were as follows:
– Grades at some private schools upgraded upon request.
– Difficult questions removed from the exam.
– Students allowed to write tests with little supervision and internet access.
– Tests could be rewritten for a hundred dollars.
Imagine if regular high schools allowed those things to happen. We would never have to study for tests again! Don’t like that question? Ask the teacher to remove it! Don’t like that grade? Upgrade it! Don’t know the answer to that question? Google it! Sounds unreasonable right? This is exactly what is happening in credit mill high schools. Instead of failing out of classes, under-achieving students are able to pay their way to a better grade.
You would think that a sensible teacher would take a moment to say “Hey guys, this is actually very unfair!”, but either it hasn’t happened, or they have been silenced. Now, okay. I know what you’re thinking – so what if they get higher marks, it doesn’t affect me! You bet it does. Hard-working kids like you and I are being rejected from top university programs (I’m looking at you, Schulich!) simply because students from these credit mills are taking our spots.
Credit mills are bad news, but if that’s the case, why do they still exist? Better yet, why are they so successful? Here are the reasons why.
1. Economic Incentives
Incentives are used as a way to change the choices that people make. Here in these credit mill cases, the obvious incentive being used are economic incentives. Economic incentives are enticing because it involves people gaining economically (usually involving money), as long as they change their decisions.
In an example provided by this article, a student received a measly 74 percent in Advanced Functions, and sought out to change it by attending TCT high school – a credit mill. Paying between $500 – $700 dollars for each credit, the student knew what he was getting into. The amounts of money being paid by students were huge economic incentives for the school to hand out easy marks. The money is what differentiates these credit mill classrooms from regular classrooms.
One of the main reasons why these credit mills are so successful is that it is just so simple to give easy marks. After all, the teachers are gaining from it. So what if they’re not exactly qualified? So what if they’re doing less than the required 110 hours of classroom time? They’re getting paid. The economic gain in these situations are so powerful that there isn’t much to lose from partaking in them.
One teacher offers the explanation that the marks are higher because of “smaller class sizes and more personal attention.” Yeah, right. The only reason these teachers would pay more attention is because of the number of zeroes these kids are throwing away. Students being prepared for university isn’t even close to being one of these high schools’ concerns.
Students on the other hand, should know better. It is pretty obvious what they are getting into by attending one of these schools. Although, for the students, the economic gain is pretty enticing as well. All they have to do is pay a couple hundred dollars and voilà! An easy 90 without any work involved. By parting with their money (or most likely their parents’), students are guaranteed a reasonable amount of economic gain – the desired mark and the university of their choice (Hogwarts not included) . Whether they are ready or not for said university, can still be questioned. Working hard at school could possibly yield the same results, but more often than not, students feel that it isn’t worth it. These credit mills are an easy way to get what they want without losing much.
2. Opportunity Cost
Opportunity cost refers to the most highly sacrificed alternative – or the value of the “next best choice”. It is basically what was not chosen.
The opportunity cost for attending these credit mills is a real education. School is a lot more than just getting the required mark. Sure, it would be great to get that 100 in Calculus, but more often than not, it’s about what you learned. Sometimes your mark reflects that, but sometimes it doesn’t. Buying your mark from these credit mills? You may be gaining in the marks department, but you’re surely falling short in the education department.
For those who argue that these are the same things, you’re wrong. Let’s take History for example. The fact is, all they do is memorize and cram the information into their brains for a test/exam. A week later, they probably could not tell you about the Treaty of Versailles. This goes to show that not only cramming is bad, but that you probably didn’t learn much in that class. You may have received a 90+ mark in that class, didn’t learn anything. There is a huge difference between learning and knowing the material for a test. Learn for the sake of learning, not for the sake of getting an easy mark, even if that is an added bonus.
When going to one of these private schools, you are not learning at all, yet, your mark doesn’t reflect that. The opportunity cost for attending these credit mills are costing students their education, along with the regular cost of their money. Instead of going to a credit mill, students could be learning the material that will prepare them for university. Therefore, one may conclude that the opportunity cost for going to these institutions is an education. Students, however do not realize this. They think that it is an easy way to get high marks, and that is why these credit mills are so successful.
The 3 “E”s
To be equitable, it means that everything is fair or impartial – that everyone gets their fair share. An operation is efficient when some people are better off without making others worse off. By paying for grades, one may think that everyone is getting their fair share. Teachers are getting the money, while kids will get the mark they want. This, however is untrue. The students that are paying are actually worse off. They are worse off because they will start to believe that everything in life can be solved with money. These students also do not work to earn their grades, which in turn means that they do not learn anything. Although it seems great that they are getting high grades, it will ultimately cause problems when they enter university.
The ability of being able to pay for grades is nothing if not efficient (in the short term). As the Dictionary.com definition reads, efficiency means the accomplishment of or ability to accomplish a job with a minimum expenditure of time and effort. With the proof provided by the Toronto Star, it seems as if running a credit mill requires little to no effort at all! Teachers do not need to provided constant supervision during tests, and the required 110 hours of classroom time isn’t even met at all. The reason that there is no effort at all is because the teachers know that there is no point. Both the educators and students know that the money has already guaranteed a high mark. The only work you have to do is bring out the money. What’s the point in putting in time and effort, when the results are already set in stone?
In the long run, however, it is not very efficient. Paying for grades would mean that students do not care, and do not put in the effort to get a certain grade. In turn, this makes them unprepared for university. Yes, they do get into their program of choice, but whether or not they can stay in is another matter. Dropping out of university is highly inefficient. You lose time, and also money (due to tuition). Once you drop out, students will probably have to find another way to get back in, to get their desired career. If the students had put in the effort in the first place, they will save a lot of time and money. The chance of those hard working students dropping out of university is far less than those who paid for their grades.
Now, some of you may say “But they’re paying for it! It’s only fair that they get what they put in!”. Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to my friend named the Fallacy of Composition. The Fallacy of Composition states that just because something is good for a particular group or individual, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s good for everyone. Sure, credit mills are fair to those who get what they paid for, but students that work hard to achieve their grades are the losers in this game. They might get a 91 in mathematics, but what good is that compared to a student that got a 97 in a credit mill? Paying for grades is definitely not an equal system for everyone. Not everyone can afford to pay these high price tags to get a 90+ percentage. The fact that everyone has an equal opportunity to pay for grades, does not take into account whether or not they have the means to.
Universities don’t test the students on what they know, only on what their marks are. This is why the idea of standardized testing should be implemented. Like the SAT in the United States, these will ensure that all the applicants know all the required material before entering post-secondary education. Not only that, it could potentially put these credit mills out of business. Because it’s obvious that these credit mills do not benefit the students academically, no one would pay to get their marks anymore.
Better enforcement could be placed on these private school credit mills. Teachers (unlike in these credit mills) will have to be certified, and have a diploma. Every so often, there should be a government employee sent (preferably undercover) to see what it is like inside the private schools. Taking them by surprise, there is no way they will be able to “clean up” their act before the auditor arrives. If more schools get caught, other private schools would think twice before following in their footsteps. Additionally, if schools are caught, they should be exposed to the media. Not only does this bring shame to their school, but it will set an example for other schools – kind of like a warning. For example, a 28 year-old Toronto Star journalist went undercover in an alleged high school credit mill, and here’s what her experience was like.
Which leads to my last suggestion. Publicly acknowledging these schools will be a social incentive not to open credit mills. Society will definitely start looking at these schools in a bad light. If exposure to the media is done often enough, people will not want to attend these institutions at all. Universities will probably start looking at which schools a student obtained a credit from. Got your credit from a credit mill named by the media? REJECTED.
Evil, thy name is “paying for grades”.
I believe being able to pay for grades is awful, and should never be implemented in any school system. Not only is it unfair to those who can’t afford it, it is unfair to those who can. Education is free, take advantage of that and instead of paying for marks, earn them. That way, you can have the satisfaction of saying that you actually worked hard, instead of saying you paid for it. It is unfair for those who work so hard to earn their grades, when all you have to do is pay. Life has no shortcuts, and if you try to take them, it will only result in you going the long way in the end. Do it right the first time, or you’ll end up having to work more. Instead of finding ways to cheat your way to a higher mark, just do your homework and study. Instead of paying for your marks, just work hard. Nothing comes easy, but if you put in the effort, the results will be worth it.