Had a conversation with a good colleague the other day who marveled at the fact that the knowledge we are trying to “sell” students in class is the only commodity that people willingly shortchange themselves on. That is, most students pay full price for their courses but want to do as little as possible in them. Have fewer assignments? Fine by them. Less reading? Even better. Cancel class? Fine by them. My colleague said it’s like paying full price for a Coke and getting only a half full cup — and being happy about it.

It’s easy for professors to get upset about how students devalue the educational commodity we think we are providing. I get upset about it myself. But the reality is this: the commodity that college students are buying for their tuition money is not an EDUCATION (knowledge, understanding, insight, or anything like that). The commodity the students are buying in each class is a grade and a certain number of credits, and over the course of their undergraduate careers, a degree.

Herein lies a good deal of the misunderstanding between professors and students: what we think we’re selling and what they think they’re buying are two different things.

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