You’re special, you’re unique, and you can be anything you want to be when you grow up! As children, current college students were showered with these inspirational clich?s by parents, teachers and coaches who wanted to make sure self-esteem was never tarnished. But instead of pushing promising students to excel as much as possible, more often than not they merely commended students for fulfilling basic expectations. Unfortunately, this generation is now grown, and the kids who were weaned on participation trophies have come to believe school is a river of gold stars.

A recent study conducted by the University of California, Irvine discovered a significant portion of university students surveyed believed they should receive at least a B for merely finishing the assigned reading or attending lecture. If a professor refuses to pander to their students’ expectations, they are seen as being unfair and holding unrealistic grading standards.

A recent Badger Herald article quoted an UW Undergraduate Admissions statistic claiming “the middle 50 percent of enrolled freshman in fall 2008 were ranked in the 86-96th percentile range of their graduating high school class.” While UW students should be proud they were accepted into an extremely competitive university, they need to understand the methods they used to coast through high school will no longer be mistaken for academic acclaim.

Transitioning from high school to college is not easy, particularly if receiving good grades has become second nature. But if the same amount of effort no longer yields As and Bs at college, the student, not the teacher, is at fault. Students attempting to claim they are merely bad at taking tests need to understand this excuse no longer absolves them from comprehending material and working for grades. Those who complain about how much effort they put into a class rarely consider that someone who received a better grade put in even more than they did. To a professor, attendance and participation are not the same. Reading for class and showing up is only the bare minimum. Unless students have a clear comprehension of the material presented, they are not prepared for class. A professor should not hand out B’s for perfect attendance. In addition, students need to know that receiving a bad grade is not a punishment. It is the professor’s method of informing them they have room for improvement and need to hone their skills.

When a student finally attains a good grade that took hard work to achieve, it makes the grade worth something. Additionally, struggling and working toward that goal teaches them more than the material ever will. If a student is truly working as hard as they can for a good grade and they still fail, then they still learned a valuable lesson: another major may suit them better. If working harder does not yield higher grades, then students should cultivate existing talents instead. The worst case scenario would be that a student finds a major they are passionate about, develops their talent into a marketable skill and lands a job they will enjoy upon graduation.

On the other hand, if a student can earn an A for minimal effort, there is no incentive or motivation to work at the best of their ability. Giving out As and Bs for fulfilling basic class expectations undermines both the material and the student’s work. If enough professors grade on effort, it compromises the reputation of the department within each school as well as the university overall. The reason people want to attend UW is because of its prized reputation for academics. If UW started allowing students to earn high grades in any discipline they choose, very few would want to attend. Becoming extremely skilled and specialized within a field is the point of attending a university, and A’s for effort will only undermine students’ future job prospects.

If an employer interviews you and sees you have a 4.0 GPA, you are likely to get hired. But once they discover you are severely unqualified, totally inept and expect to be rewarded for bare minimum effort, you won’t last long. If you, as a student, want college credit for showing up, then the only jobs you will be qualified for upon graduation would be tedious, mindless and repetitive tasks you need no special skills to do. Graduating without any aptitude in your field because you wanted good grades would be a horrible fate. If you want to enter the job market without acquiring any skills at college then you would only be paying thousands of dollars for a worthless degree — a glorified participation trophy.

Casey Skeens (skeens@wisc.edu) is a senior majoring in English and French.