Don’t blame millennials for your entitlement problem

Educators accusing students of not working hard enough is simply a shirking of their responsibility to actually meet learners’ needs, says Katherine Gould

July 24, 2018
Man shrugging shoulders cropped

The Times Higher Education article “Millennials: the age of entitlement” delivered exactly the drivel expected: an anecdote about a student who expects everything handed to her, followed by further anecdotes, but no data, to bolster the argument that “kids these days are spoiled”.

The pseudonymous author “Vieno Vehko” argues that “students don’t take responsibility for their own learning” and adds the counterexample of an excellent older student. Voila! Case made. Generation written off and good riddance.

The idea that students today are inferior to those of the past is a well-worn rag, embellished with “entitlement” for millennials and the idea is still wrong. (Also misplaced; the oldest millennials are 36.) This generation does not actually want a trophy for showing up. They expect to work hard, but first-year college students often don’t know how to do that. It is the job of college faculty to teach those skills. Older students have had more practice at life, so of course they’re better at it.

But let’s look at what has actually changed in today’s colleges and what it means for students to “take responsibility for their own learning”.

Costs have doubled, and in some cases tripled, in two decades, meaning that each semester represents a significant financial investment. It would be lovely if students could traipse through the academic catalogue in a journey of pure learning. But when each semester, even at a state school, costs $25,000 (£19,000), you can’t take academic detours.

Today’s students have been told that a degree is a ticket to success, so they work outside jobs and take on loans to get that ticket. None of this is the fault of students, so stop blaming students for doing what they need to do to get an education. That’s what taking their education seriously looks like.

What else has changed is that your student body includes people who would previously have been excluded by your college’s (and society’s) racist, classist and ableist policies.

Fortunately, the number of black and Hispanic students has increased over the past 20 years. Unfortunately, many colleges are still primarily white, and have very few people of colour teaching classes. It’s no wonder minority students still feel like they don’t belong.

We also have more students whose parents didn’t go to college. Don’t blame them when they get confused and overwhelmed by your school’s convoluted bureaucracy.        

And finally, society has realised that learning disabilities do not equal lower intelligence. Stop blaming students who are having trouble learning the way that you want them to learn.

We, as educators, have a responsibility to keep up with the changes in our campuses. That means that your old way of teaching isn’t enough any more. Today’s students do feel entitled to teachers who teach and make sure students are learning. They take their education seriously and they expect you to take it seriously too.

So faculty, stop whining. Your students are not the ones with an entitlement problem; you are.

Katherine Gould is an adjunct instructor of biology at several community colleges in Southern California.

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Reader's comments (2)

Don't Agree at all. It is certainly not all black and white. There is always the grey. And overall I don't agree, I have seen that students are the 'problem'. You cannot equate everything to cost of education, it is not a linear relationship.
Thank you for calling that article like the rest of us MILLENNIAL ACADEMICS saw it. Oh no! I said "like," and I totally worked two jobs while getting my undergraduate because I didn't want to be in debt up to my eyeballs in student loans. FYI, that author of that original piece seems to have missed that part as to why her alleged "irresponsible" students have JOBS. To avoid crippling debt so we only taken out tuition in loans - like me! Oh no! I did a millennial thing again and typed in caps! Academia is doomed! Maybe I should use a hashtag: #quitbashingmillennials

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