Great expectations

Study finds sense of ‘academic entitlement’ prevalent among university students

History department undergraduate chair Jeff Brison says he doesn’t think the trend of academic entitlement is a new phenomenon.
History department undergraduate chair Jeff Brison says he doesn’t think the trend of academic entitlement is a new phenomenon.

American university students are becoming more high maintenance, according to a recent survey conducted by the University of California, Irvine.

In the survey, students were asked to give their opinion on how effort is evaluated within university marking schemes.

The results found that 30 per cent of students surveyed felt they deserved at least a B for attending lectures. An additional 40 per cent felt that completing all the required readings also merited a B average. These results show a rise in what researchers call “academic entitlement” amongst university students. Queen’s professors have noticed a similar trend.

Biology professor Virginia Walker said students often complain that the work they put in and the grade they receive don’t match up.

“Students come and say, ‘I attended all your classes, and I studied for your exam for three whole days, and I didn’t do well,” she said. “Students feel that if they do all their readings and their work there is some sort of entitlement that they should do well.”

Walker said although teachers want their students to succeed, that’s not always possible.

“Sometimes I tell [my students] that I wish I had a magic wand to wave over them so that they could get an A,” she said. “But in the end, there is no magic wand. Intellectual pursuits are not democratic and not necessarily fair.”

Finance professor Lewis Johnson said his students also expect higher grades with minimal effort.

“We do have generational changes in expectations. The students today aren’t the same as the students that were here 28 years ago when I first came [to Queen’s]. For one thing they’re younger because of the double cohort elimination.”

Johnson said students today require more academic guidance and are less self-sufficient.

“That manifests itself in more neediness, more handholding, more wanting help and less doing it yourself, but that still doesn’t translate into an entitlement based mentality. They still realize that they have to work hard, that’s the input, but they also have to put out, which is the output.”

But academics aren’t all students are looking for said Blythe Hubbard, ArtSci ’11.

“With the drama department specifically, it’s a really close faculty because it’s small. If you try to make more of a relationship with your profs, they’ll be more likely to be open to helping you. It’s easier also to be closer to your profs in drama than psychology in general.” Hubbard said the personal relationships she has established with her professors provide greater incentive for students to do well.

“Because it’s a smaller program and they know you better, you want to do better in their courses.”

Alex Parkinson, Sci ’11 said he feels attendance marks have a place in academia.

“I think they should definitely take it into consideration. One of my professors actually does. I think that if you do go to class everyday and you do all your work, you should get a much higher grade,” he said. “I think that participation should be factored in. It shouldn’t be factored in to the extent that you can pass an entire course without actually learning anything, but just showing up to class every day.”

Mathematics professor Peter Taylor, who has encountered similar sentiments, said changes in the culture of education may account for the shift in attitude.

“In the 1960s, 10 per cent of the population went to university. Now it’s more like 25 per cent. But university is a very special place. It is really only for people who want to expand their knowledge and their learning. There is now a band of people who come to university for a different reason. It is a whole culture change.”

Taylor said students need to recognize grading is based on quality of work, not quantity of effort.

“Doing the work not well should not be a B; marks are given for how well you do the work.”

History department undergraduate chair Jeff Brison said he doesn’t believe the trend of academic entitlement is a recent phenomenon.

“I think there’s a generational politics where people forget what they were like when they were undergraduates. They’re thinking about the quality of work they do now. It doesn’t seem to me to be a substantially different environment than what I went through when I was at McGill.”

Brison, who graduated in 1988, said the problem may lie in communication, Brison said.

“There’s a consistency amongst people in disciplines—generally speaking, that people have a fairly standard idea of what’s standard. Part of the difficulty is explaining exactly to students what the standards are that they’re trying to meet,” he said.

Angelica Bennett, ArtSci ’10, said students’ grades should be based on their improvement

“It’s all about what grades you get, not about what you’ve learned. It’s really hard to gauge how somebody’s learning and I don’t think that’s been effectively done, and that’s their job as a university, to gauge your work.”

Bennett said she thinks students should be able to judge their success in university based on their level of improvement.

“I think there should be a form of grading people as they improve throughout the years. The grades you get in first year and the grades you get in fourth year shouldn’t be the same,” she said. “That means you’re obviously not improving, then what’s the point of university?

“You’re there to learn and improve your skills. I think that the point of university has been very lost in the grading system because you’re just getting a grade based on what your TA thinks or what your professor thinks.”

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