Friday, August 9, 2013

Why bribes are better than extra credit

Summer session of my economics class is wrapping up. With record enrollment, I have also been inundated with last minute requests for extra credit.

Asking for extra credit is a student's way of saying, "I can't be bothered to come to class or read the material, so why don't you let me write a three page paper and you can bump me up by a letter grade?"

Let's just say I hate the whole idea of extra credit ...

First of all, if I have to extend it to Mr. I-don't-have-time-for-class, then I have to extend it to everyone. I grade on a curve, so there is a chance that the extra credit will ultimately do nothing to change the distribution of grades.

Second of all, every three page paper that a student writes for extra credit is a three page paper that I have to read for extra credit. Anyone who has had to read papers by students who are asking for extra credit will tell you that when you are done, you walk away with an overwhelming sense of dread for the future of our country.

So there we have it: Extra credit is unfair to the smart and studious, it provides an uncertain and small benefit to the extra credit seeker, and imposes a huge cost on the instructor. And, the cost to the instructors is much higher than the potential benefit to the student. It is entirely economically inefficient.

Then it hit me ... bribes are much more economically efficient.


  • It imposes a cost on the student seeking the higher grade. And, its more fair: "A" students would never pay the bribe, and "F" students would probably be willing to pay a stiff price to get into passing territory.
  • Rather than imposing a cost on the instructor, it benefits the instructor.
Now, you'll say that the bribes diminish the value of smarts and studying.  So what? So does extra credit: Extra credit is a way of making up an entire course's worth of work with a little three page essay.

I think I'll put my new "extra credit" system in my syllabus next year and see what the department chair says. He's an economist, after all ...