EducationPop Quiz

Pop Quiz: Academic Entitlement

This is undoubtedly not a new issue here on School of Doubt, but I was once again struck (at the end of the semester and seeing student comments) on how students seem to think they should be rewarded with a good grade for simply showing up and doing the bare minimum.  If they actually do more than that minimum they should all get A’s and B’s.

One student actually said that in her evaluation – that I should have given her a better grade because she put in so much effort.  Never mind that she never followed instructions and turned in work that was completely irrelevant to the task at hand (and therefore had no idea what was going on in class when we discussed the assignment).  I could cite dozens of similar comments, though none so brazen.

This post from 2012 discussed the idea of how a student’s “academic entitlement” altered the way they approached the class and the instructor, including instances of disrespect when the student did poorly on assessments.  More recently, a survey at the University of Windsor showed most students aren’t like this, but that the ones who are will likely not do well academically or on the job.  Just last month, another report on the rise of incivility and entitlement in the college classroom was published in the American Association of University Professors.

Most of the articles suggest or outright declare that this is a new phenomenon – the student-as-consumer model gone wrong.  Most of them also provide advice on how to prevent this in your own classroom, including the writing of clear syllabi and the enforcement of consequences outlined in them, defending the value of assignments, and providing examples of the kind of work you expect to receive a given grade.  During my years of teaching, my syllabus has indeed become extremely transparent on my expectations and the consequences of not meeting those expectation, not to mention how grades are assigned.

And yet, I still get evaluations saying I should given grades for pure effort…

I’m betting jodee gets comments like that when she assigns papers or homework assignments and gives poor grades for poor work.  I’m betting all the teachers who read this will nod to themselves too.  I know when I was a student I didn’t have these expectations and that I knew I had to work hard to get good grades and my peers knew it too.  I am always so surprised when I encounter this attitude that students deserve a good grade for simply turning something in.

So here’s my two-fold question to you: is academic entitlement really a new thing? And where does the disconnect arise between the instructors’ expectations and the students’ on how grades are given?

The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the afternoon (ET).

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Apostrophobia is a college professor at a women's college in the US. She teaches biology, does pedagogical research on her guinea pigs (aka students), and has an existential fear of misplaced apostrophes.


  1. May 27, 2014 at 6:57 pm —

    I think its always been there for the last 40-50 years, but the level of entitlement has become inflated. I remember way back when I was a student, my cell biology class in which the prof never gave out a grade lower than a C as long as you showed up for class and the tests. His philosophy is that if you did that, you must have learned something about cells even without trying to. I also remember my physics classes, where a 20% grade on tests was enough to get a C because the curves were so large. This is where it may come from: curved grades = a form of entitlement. Since there has been relatively pervasive grade inflation across institutions, many students now expect “average” to be curved to a B or B+. When you don’t, there is a reaction that YOU don’t know the rules and need to adjust.

    At my institution the students know who inflates and who doesn’t and at least appear to treat you accordingly. After developing a 20 year reputation for being a tough grade, I don’t now get more than the occasional forlorn, “but I liked your class and I tried hard” as a justification for why a higher grade is deserved. Although recently here’s my entitlement story. A student took my midterm and did well (top 10% of the class for 45% of the grade). But the student never attended Discussion (giving away 10% of the overall points) and then absolutely bombed the final (the last 45% of grade), including putting false for all 66 true/false questions. They later claimed they were NOT guessing!!! Overall average = 60% and the student got a D. After the course they came to argue. The rationale is this, if I had curved the 1st test (which I didn’t) it would have been an A. Now factor in an F for the final and the letter grade average should be no worse than a C. New entitlement = do well on one test, your grade is no worse than a C no matter if you blow off the entire rest of the class!

    • May 31, 2014 at 4:07 pm —

      I too am the dreaded “tough grader” and I often get student comments that my expectations are too high (!), but the effort = better grade (especially when what the student thinks is a lot of effort, which they occasionally report to me, is certainly not a lot at all…) attitude is what takes me by surprise. Then the ones like you describe, where they’re essentially lying (no guessing, right…) make me wonder how stupid they think I am.

  2. May 28, 2014 at 9:43 am —

    I think academic entitlement has been around for a loooong time. Maybe students think grades are like money from a job. If I show up and do the least amount they still have to pay me so I get credit for being here. I most certainly never expected a good grade if I did not perform well. I do know that there are students who know which teachers are push overs and like to give sob stories to try and get a better grade. However, there is are times that I had a class like Peter Nonacs in physics where a 30% was an A because the class was just ridiculously difficult.

    • May 31, 2014 at 4:10 pm —

      The thing is, even with a job, doing the bare minimum isn’t going to be enough to advance, to get raises, etc. Most of my students are in school for a better career – if they think just showing up will be enough, they’re in bigger trouble than I thought.

      As for physics, my professor (back in the dark ages) justified those averages by saying that even if one person got 100% on the exams, that person wasn’t being challenged enough. It was his goal to make sure no one got all the points! This of course meant the rest of us were screwed…

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