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I work at a small regional university in the United States. Teaching takes up a significant portion of my time and energy, but I still enjoy it. I primarily teach undergraduate courses in math and computer science. The pay is not great, but I feel like I'm making a worthwhile contribution.

However, in recent years, I've noticed a growing number of entitled students. By that, I mean students who expect academic success without taking personal responsibility for achieving it, and who expect instructors to act as their personal tutors. While these characteristics are technically separate, they often go hand in hand.

When I first started here, I would encounter one such student per year. Now, I see them in every class, every semester. They really detract from the joy of teaching and sometimes make me question if my efforts are worth it. I've been considering moving to larger public or private universities, most likely within the U.S.

My question is: is this increase in entitled students a local problem specific to my university/region, or will I encounter them no matter where I go?

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    What level (within the undergraduate level) courses do you observe this behavior most often? Were you teaching the same course in the past when you would see fewer such instances? Is this a pattern across all your courses? Feb 1 at 8:26
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    Sounds an awful lot like the Millennial Job Interview, even though that's already 6 years old. Are you telling me the next generation is even worse!? ;-) -- Kind regards, your boomer Feb 1 at 17:28
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    I don't understand why this question depends on individual factors. It's unrelated to me or my university. I'm specifically asking about the situation elsewhere.
    – Timmy
    Feb 2 at 1:49

3 Answers 3

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The short answer is YES, and the higher up you go on the "prestige" ladder, the worse it gets.

I did my MS and PhD at R1 institutions and later 2 postdocs also at R1s, and during that period worked on dozens of courses as TA. I am now a tenured STEM professor at a regional public institution. It was my experience, and that of everyone I know with a similar range of working experiences, that students at the community college level rarely act entitled. Oh, they have lots of problems, specially with not knowing academic social norms and missing deadlines, but entitlement is not one of them. Then as you go to the regional colleges, the national colleges, and the Ivies, the entitlement builds up to a point that professors are outright scared of students and pretty much give the grades away. You have not seen entitlement until you are the recipient of a phone call from a PARENT demanding to know why you gave their prince/princess a B. And the administrators are behind the parents! Everyone knows professors in the Ivies that give every student an A, because they otherwise feel that it's impossible to deal with the entitlement.

At the regional-college level, what my colleagues and I call entitlement is stuff like students constantly missing deadlines and asking for extensions as if that were an automatic thing you get for the asking. Students complaining if you don't give them a detailed study guide. Students using the phrase "I was confused" as a incantation that is supposed to make all of their mistakes go away, e.g. "I was confused about the homework, so I didn't submit it" is something I hear 10 times a week.

I think a lot of it has to do with COVID. The students you are seeing now are the ones entering high school as schools went online, and all deadlines became optional.

But yes, students acting demanding is the status quo, and it is everywhere. But I think it's just an annoyance. There are plenty of effective strategies to deal with them, and soon you learn to look at people in the eyes and say "no."

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  • This is quite surprising. Is there any difference between public and private universities in this regard?
    – Timmy
    Feb 2 at 1:53
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    I left academia just before COVID hit, so my teaching experience is a bit outdated, but this sounds nothing like my teaching experience at a handfull of European universities. The entitled students made up less than 1% of my students, with the exception of my expeditions to a few 'University Colleges', which are not in any way universities.
    – Servaes
    Feb 4 at 20:45
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    The only time I got a call from a parent, I explained that I could not discuss the student's performance without a FERPA release. Never got a call back.
    – Bob Brown
    Feb 4 at 21:06
  • @Servaes, I'm not familiar with how European universities operate. Do students have to pay high tuition fees like their American counterparts? For many of my students, the total cost of tuition and other expenses will be almost equal to their annual salary when they start working. I wonder if the feeling of being paying customers affects their attitude.
    – Timmy
    Feb 5 at 2:59
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    @Timmy Also, I not once had any interaction with a student's parent, and I would be thoroughly confused if any parent contacted me: All my students were adults. Matters between the student and the university are none of their business.
    – Servaes
    Feb 5 at 22:36
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Rather than letting the inmates run the asylum, consider looking at this as a broader teaching opportunity

Judging by the wide variety of sources reporting similar phenomena, this appears to be a problem affecting academia in the entire Anglosphere at least. Anecdotally, there have been a number of articles written in the last twenty years making similar observations of rising student entitlement in academia. It has already been about fifteen years since Twenge and Campbell (2009) discussed the "narcissism epidemic" and showed evidence of rising rates of narcissism and general over-entitlement in society. If anything, the emergence of social media appears to have accelerated this phenomenon, and it has probably also reduced attention spans, which contributes further to the problem.

Aside from general rising rates of entitlement among younger generations, there are also some factors specific to academia that may have increased the sense of entitlement specifically within this field. One of those factors is the fact that university education had broadened significantly over the generations to encompass a far greater fraction of the population, and many people who now go to university are people who would not previously have made the cut, and they have a poor understanding of the expectations of work in academia and the distinction between tertiary education versus secondary education. Many also have poorer executive functioning than past generations of students and their consequent displays of entitlement may act as a method to seek special consideration to dampen the negative effects of lack of executive functioning. Another factor is the corporatisation of universities and the more customer-centric ethos that has arisen in this environment, including the creation of administrative roles that are incentivised to support student demands irrespective of the academic merits of those demands.

I can certainly understand how this detracts from the joys of teaching for many university lecturers, but bear in mind that it also creates a new teaching opportunity insofar as it allows you to teach students to better understand the expectations of tertiary education and the broader professional skills that they should master to be successful in later life. Personally, I see it as worthwhile to view rising student entitlement as a knowledge problem that can, in principle, be corrected by good teaching --- students may be entitled because they come into university without a realistic understanding of how it is distinct from high-school or what the professional standards are in this environment. Through your words and actions in your teaching, impart to this new generation of students the proper expectations about what tertiary education is and what it requires. This can be part of a broader teaching ethos where you consider your teaching to encompass the imparting of general professional standards and skills in addition to merely teaching the content of your particular courses. This is something I try to do in my own teaching and I find many occasions where unreasonable student expectations and poor professional skills can lead to a fruitful discussion of how students can be professionally successful in later life (e.g., how to manage deadlines, compose emails, deal with critical feedback on work, etc.). I also find that it is possible to frame this discussion in a positive and inspiring way that many students respond positively to --- frame it so that you are imparting the special "secret formula" to your students for how they can get a leg-up on their later career by uplifting their professional skills and practice. Students probably see you as a professionally successful person, so use that to your advantage.

Now, while this can be seen as a knowledge problem in essential terms, I will certainly concede that this "lack of knowledge" can be aggravated by a degree of intransigence on the part of some students, possibly even a degree of intransigence that was absent a generation ago. Some students are quite entitled and do not respond well to instruction about expectations at university. This might require you to be the "immovable object" in the face of the "unstoppable force" of generational change. Ultimately, students will respond to the incentives they are confronted with, and if they are not rewarded for their entitlement (e.g., by giving students higher grades or other unreasonable assistance when they complain) then they will eventually adapt to the new reality and grow into adulthood. Perhaps I have an advantage being a curmudgeon, but I've never found this to be a big problem or be too disheartening in my teaching --- I just see it as an important part of teaching that adds value for my students. Ideally, teachers in secondary education would have prepared our students better, but alas, they left it for us. Someone has to teach them to be adults so we might as well take on that task before they get into the workforce.

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    Although I relate to many sentiments in this answer, it puts a strong emphasis on a single person. A university is an organisation, and actions of one are only effective if they are supported by the environment. If your university converted to a customer-oriented corporate business, and you are the single person trying to maintain high teaching standards and remind students of their responsibilities as adults, this won't lead to anything except personal burnout. Feb 1 at 8:57
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    @DmitrySavostyanov: Sure, but as with many answers on this site, the hope is that a wide group of academics read this answer and it encourages them all to contribute to the solution. Also, to some extent the burnout is a matter of perspective and expectation --- many academics are willing to correct the same basic calculus errors for twenty years without feeling burned out by it, so why should correcting basic attitudinal errors in relation to professional skills necessarily be any different.
    – Ben
    Feb 1 at 11:57
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    I don't find the "broadening" explanation persuasive. It seems like this would mean more working-class people in universities, and they would have received a stronger work ethic from their parents. "Elites" are more likely to have been born with a silver spoon and have expectations that things will come easier to them.
    – Barmar
    Feb 1 at 15:18
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    But maybe the claim is that universities previously only accepted top students, who had to work hard to achieve those grades, and now they're accepting B and C students who didn't learn good study habits.
    – Barmar
    Feb 1 at 15:19
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    I wonder if the general "rising rate of entitlement" comes from things like "everyone gets a prize just for showing up", which is intended to boost children's self-esteem.
    – Barmar
    Feb 1 at 19:29
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I have taught at a US school and can agree that some students are entitled. I have taught in Europe (Sweden) for many years, and entitled students are almost unheard of.

I think this is not really due to culture; In the US, people pay large fees for their education while universities here are free. It simply does not make sense to complain about something you do not directly pay for. But the student body is quite different - I have several people above their 50s in my first semester math class, so the average student tend to know how to be responsible for their own studies. Again, since there are no tuition fees, there are no parents in the background financing the studies (and thus pushing expectations on their students in the same way as in the US).

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