Students' sense of entitlement angers academics

February 26, 2009

Concern is building that US students have developed an unhealthy sense of "entitlement" to higher education.

When Times Higher Education columnist John H. Summers described his experiences as a lecturer at Harvard University, saying that students sometimes viewed him as in their pay and duty-bound to award top grades, the account caused fierce online debate.

Now the issue has raised its head again in The New York Times, which reported a recent study by researchers at the University of California, Irvine. It found that a third of students expect a B grade just for attending lectures and completing the required reading.

The newspaper quotes Marshall Grossman, professor of English at the University of Maryland, who said that he now expects complaints whenever he reveals grades to his students.

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

"I tell my classes that if they just do what they are supposed to do ... they will earn a C. That is the default grade. They see the default grade as an A."

Mr Summers, who taught at Harvard for six years, described the difficulties of teaching students from very affluent families, the "post- pubescent children of notables".

But some of his colleagues in US academia see the problem springing from other sources.

Ellen Greenberger, who led the UC Irvine study, told The New York Times that increased parental and peer pressure and the growth of "achievement anxiety" could be to blame.

Another academic suggested that the increasing tendency to "teach to the test" at school level had led college students to demand a "magic formula" to ensure success.

James Hogge, associate dean of the Peabody School of Education at Vanderbilt University, said: "Students often confuse the level of effort with the quality of work.

"There is a mentality in students that 'If I work hard, I deserve a high grade'."

john.gill@tsleducation.com.

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