Entitled: Is That How Your Students Feel?

“Prevalent among university faculty is the perception that a large number of today's students possess an outsized sense of entitlement” (Luckett, Trocchia, Noel, & Marlin, 2017, p. 96). But what exactly does entitlement mean in the academic realm? High grades without much in the way of effort? A demanding attitude toward teachers? Views of education as a commodity, something they've paid for and believe they should have their way?

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“Prevalent among university faculty is the perception that a large number of today's students possess an outsized sense of entitlement” (Luckett, Trocchia, Noel, & Marlin, 2017, p. 96). But what exactly does entitlement mean in the academic realm? High grades without much in the way of effort? A demanding attitude toward teachers? Views of education as a commodity, something they've paid for and believe they should have their way?

In this study, researchers started with a measure of academic entitlement developed in 2008 that a student focus group helped them update. Here's a sample of the questions used in the survey: 1) A professor shouldn't be annoyed with me if I carry on text message conversations in class; 2) I would think poorly of a professor who didn't respond the same day to an e-mail I sent; and 3) If I have completed most of the reading for a class, I deserve at least a B in that course.

Those three questions are representative of the three dimensions of academic entitlement explored in this study. The first represents behavioral entitlement; it involves issues of classroom conduct, specifically the use of electronic devices during class, attendance, and arriving late or leaving early. The second question, which researchers labeled “service entitlement,” concerns expectations about instructor responsiveness—how quickly e-mails and phone messages should be returned and how students feel if the professor cancels an appointment with them. The third question represents behavioral entitlement and students' expectations that attending class, doing the reading, and trying hard all merit receiving a B.

Using this measure of academic entitlement, researchers surveyed 293 undergraduate marketing students and found they belonged to one of four different clusters.

Cluster 1: The model student

This group scored lowest on all three of the entitlement dimensions just described. They are students who abide by the rules. They believe that grades should be earned. They are mindful of rude behaviors that make it difficult for others in the class to learn, and they are more forgiving of their professors. The good news is that this was the largest cluster of the four, comprising 41.3 percent of the overall sample. The group had more women (almost 60 percent) and reported the highest GPA (3.20).

Cluster 2: Under the radar

“Under-the-radar students were unique in terms of their relative lack of outstanding characteristics relative to the other clusters” (p. 99). They are not demanding or disruptive, but they are still less deferential than the model students. They score a bit higher on the third dimension than model students, but lower than Cluster 3 and 4 students. This group also believes that grades should be earned and that certain behaviors are unacceptable in the classroom. This group was evenly split between males and females and constituted 35.5 percent of the sample.

Cluster 3: Instructor as servant

These students “were arguably the most entitled students” (p. 99), with the highest scores on both the grade entitlement and service questions. They feel their grades should be more reflective of effort than performance, with B being the default grade. They expect prompt responses to voice and e-mail messages and are likely to take offense if the professor cancels a scheduled appointment with them. This cluster was almost 70 percent male, and it contained the youngest students. Seventeen percent of the students fell into this cluster.

Cluster 4: The privileged

In this cluster (again predominantly male), students care little for rules and manners in the classroom. They feel texting and internet use are appropriate in class. They also want grades for effort and expect professors to respond quickly to their demands. The group was also younger than the first two clusters and had the lowest GPAs (2.94). They constituted just a bit more than 6 percent of this student cohort.

Some comfort can be taken from the respective size of each of these cohorts. However, as the researchers note, “while representing only 23.2 percent of our sample, entitled students can consume a disproportionate amount of time and resources and negatively influence learning outcomes for all students” (p. 101).

This is useful work that clarifies how academic entitlement manifests itself. The sample survey questions contained in the article would garner useful information from students in any class. However, these results do not indicate widespread academic entitlement, as the research was done at one institution with a student cohort from one academic discipline.

Reference: Luckett, M., Trocchia, P. J., Noel, M. N., & Marlin, D. (2017). A typology of students based on academic entitlement. Journal of Education for Business, 92(2), 96–102.