Yes, your teacher DOES owe you a grade. BUT.

I get it. College is expensive. College students graduated with an average of $37,000 in student loan debt in 2016. In response, college students are working more: nationally, about one-fourth of all college students work full-time while going to school full-time. Almost 40% of undergraduate college students work 30 hours a week (get more detail here). When I ask my students if they work at least part-time, nearly every hand in class goes up.

No doubt your high school teachers and counselors told you that college is the way to a better income and a better life. They aren’t wrong–check out the chart published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for weekly median earnings by education level, 2017.

I get it. You don’t have a lot of time, and the stakes are high. You may even have an athletic or other scholarship on the line, or want to get into a graduate program. But as I argued in an earlier blog post, Learning to Write Well: Why Bother?, it’s worth the investment to learn how to write well. You will be more competitive in your job or graduate school than those that don’t invest the time.

Here’s the skinny, and the reason for this posts: your teachers DO, in fact, owe you a grade.

They do NOT, however, owe you the grade that you want.

They assign the grade that you EARN.

This is a common enough misunderstanding that yes, I think it’s worth a separate blog post. Sometimes this misunderstanding comes from students who did very well in high school and expect to continue to do well in college with high school effort. They haven’t caught on, yet, that college demands more. That can be a tough transition. And sometimes the misunderstanding comes from how a lot of colleges sell themselves these days: you pay your money, you get a degree. But it isn’t that simple.

When a University or college hires someone to teach, they are hiring a professional–an expert–in their field. That teacher is expected to know what someone passing their classes should know. Then that teacher is supposed to evaluate you (we call them assessments) on how well you’ve learned that material. There are standards that I won’t go into for the sake of space, but from the course level, to the department, all the way up to the institutional level, there are expectations for student achievement that must be met. To cut to the chase, when a college or university hands you a diploma, they are staking their reputation that you have demonstrated enough knowledge to have earned that diploma. When a college or university becomes known as a “degree mill” (they hand out degrees to any student that pays them), their reputation suffers and eventually, so will yours, because that institution’s name will be on your diploma–forever. The integrity of the institution matters.

As long as you are enrolled in a class, you are indeed owed a grade. But keep in mind that an F is a grade just as much as an A, and it’s up to you which one you want to earn.

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