Wednesday, February 18, 2009

AE (academic entitlement)

From an article in yesterday's New York Times on college students' expectations:

Prof. Marshall Grossman has come to expect complaints whenever he returns graded papers in his English classes at the University of Maryland.

"Many students come in with the conviction that they've worked hard and deserve a higher mark," Professor Grossman said. "Some assert that they have never gotten a grade as low as this before."

He attributes those complaints to his students' sense of entitlement.
The Times also quotes Ellen Greenberger, professor of psychology and social behavior at the University of California-Irvine, and lead author of "Self-Entitled College Students: Contributions of Personality, Parenting, and Motivational Factors," a study exploring "AE" (academic entitlement), published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence in 2008.

I spent some time this afternoon looking at this study. Surveying 466 undergrads, Greenberger and her co-authors found 66.2% agreeing (i.e., slightly agreeing, agreeing, or strongly agreeing) with this statement: "If I have explained to my professor that I am trying hard, I think he/she should give me some consideration with respect to my course grade." 40.7% agreed that "If I have completed most of the reading for a class, I deserve a B in that course." 34.1% thought that simply attending "most classes for a course" merited that B. And 29.9% agreed that "Professors who won't let me take an exam at a different time because of my personal plans (e.g. a vacation or other trip that is important to me) are too strict." I've chosen these four revealing bits from a list of fifteen AE items that students were asked to evaluate. Another finding: students with a strong sense of AE report parents who give material rewards for good grades and compare their children's achievements with those of other children.

The AE attitudes revealed in this survey are likely to be familiar to anyone in American higher education, and they can make the project of maintaining teacherly integrity quite difficult. Indeed, much of what constitutes a professor's work every semester can be the ongoing effort to undo such attitudes, by asking more of students and by attempting to persuade students that they're capable of more. It doesn't always work. For many students, the ideal prof might be summed up in the word out: one who lets the class out early — always!, and who's ready to "help out" with some, uhh, consideration, as described above.

Think for a moment about the model of learning built into the idea of being "let out early" — as if the classroom were a prison, the professor a stern or genial warden. Your parole has come through! Have a great weekend!

comments: 3

Matthew Schmeer said...

You know what I tell my students?

"It sucks to be judged, doesn't it? But get used to it; life doesn't judge you on your effort but on the results. And life doesn't take Visa or excuses.

"Now suck it up and earn the grade you want instead of complaining and hand-wringing."

That usually shuts them up.

Tenure is great, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Professor Leddy,

I feel as if I have discovered a kindred spirit. I discovered your blog this morning while looking for some other examples of "how to email a professor," and I appreciate the way you can address the reality of education and still remain optimistic. After all, we are all here because we love students and the material. In fact, I love both so much that I make them stay the entire time for the lesson. You've made me nod in agreement and chuckle aloud. I'll be back!

Best to you,
Prof. Heather Hoover

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for commenting, Matthew and Heather.

Tenure does indeed remove some of the pressure to bend. But what I really want is to change students' minds (some students' minds) about what they value in their education.

I'm always optimistic about the classes I teach and hope to stay that way. I think a recent observation from Barack Obama offers good advice for anyone who teaches: "I am an eternal optimist. That doesn't mean I'm a sap."