The entitled student

College professors may be enabling “academic entitlement” in their students, according to research by Tracey E. Zinn, a psychology associate professor at James Madison University. Entitled students learn less because they don’t think they need to do the work, notes Inside School Research.

Signs of entitlement include the beliefs that:

• Knowledge is a “right” that should be delivered with little effort or discomfort on the student’s part;

• A high grade should come, not from mastery of material, but in return for non-academic aspects of education, such as the student showing up to class, or the student or her family paying tuition or taxes which go to the teacher’s salary; and

• If a student didn’t perform well on a test, it is a sign that the test was too difficult, not that the student did not understand the material.

Entitled students want instructors to give them the right answer, while students who don’t feel entitled ask for help understanding concepts, Zinn and her colleagues found.

About Joanne


  1. I just finished teaching my first college level course and ran into just this sense of entitlement. Students who failed the course demanded that I accept late papers (despite being warned from the first day that late papers would not be accepted), “round up the grade” so they wouldn’t fail and complained that I didn’t let them “research” when I reported them for plagiarism. Fully 1/3 of the class failed due to inability to attend class, turn in papers or participate in online discussions.

    I had students who NEVER looked at their graded assignments, but came to me the last week of class to find out if they were passing (too lazy to look up their own posted grades); students who showed up 3 weeks into an 8 week course complaining they didn’t know class had already started; students who asked me where the assignments were posted 5 weeks into the course; students who tried to turn in all work for the course on the last day, citing “technology problems”, etc.

    It was a real eye-opener. I have yet to decide if I’m willing to repeat the experience and take on another class. I love to teach, but the gap between what I can do in an 8 week session and what these students need seems nearly insurmountable.

    • What’s truly scary is that your story is an *extremely* common one. Outside of the major big name Universities, this is what the rest of the college student population is like – *especially* at the nation’s community colleges. The sad fact is, the majority of the human population were never interested in being academically minded, curious about learning about the world around them, or genetically designed to be scholars. Or, like my grandad used to tell me, ‘80% of the people in the world don’t care about anything except their bread and circuses. It’s the other 20% that keep everything running, and advancing. It always has been that way, and always will be.’

      • I’m not sure what you have against CC students – I spent 5 years teaching part-time at one and have friends who have taught at both big state schools and CCs. Our findings, in 3 states, were that CC students were less entitled than students at the state school. The ones who weren’t going to do the work mostly drift away and drop or quit coming (earning an F), there are average students who earn Cs, and then there are some truly excellent students who, were there finances or family responsibilities different, could succeed anywhere. I had evaluations that said ‘The instructor worked hard to teach us, and if I had come to class more/worked harder I would have passed’. The amount of whining that I dealt with was far below what I encountered when I was a TA at a bigger school. This isn’t to say that the open enrollment system doesn’t lead to some VERY unprepared students showing up in class, just that in our experience CC students seem more willing to put the blame on themselves or life circumstances.

      • I was specifically hired to “bring real-world experience” to the course content (Information Systems in Organizations). What I found was that the “real-world experience” extended beyond the text and course content into the culture and expectations/responsibilities of instructor-student (employer-employee) interactions. That gap was huge. While I recognize that the majority of people are not interested in being academics, that does not equate to “not curious” and “unwilling to learn” . In fact, it is critical for our students that this curiosity and willingness to learn (and an appreciation and patience for the learning process) become part of their skill set. Their ability to function in society, be flexible in the face of enviable change and be successful in their life choices depend on it. Just showing up is not sufficient, particularly at the college level.

        What was even more troubling was the intense push-back I got from my “new teacher” mentor, who was horrified that I would actually report a student for plagiarism (“just a simple citing error is not enough to ruin a student’s life”). This long-time instructor had NEVER used, provided by the University, was unable to acknowledge there was an issue, despite the fact that the same paper was turned in by TWO students – and that paper was identified as an online “buy a term paper” work. If there is a culture of “look the other way” at the instructor level, the students’ reaction is understandable. After all, I was “changing the rules of the game” for them, by actually expecting them to do the work themselves.

        This is a systemic problem. Students, teachers, university structures and policies, educational goals and objectives, funding sources all need to be held accountable to change this if we want true learning vs diploma mills (however elegantly we dress the “mill”)

  2. “A high grade should come, not from mastery of material, but in return for non-academic aspects of education, such as the student showing up to class”

    Not exactly non-academic, but still a non sequitur: “But I worked hard in this class! I deserve a higher grade!” Never mind that all that effort bore no fruit on the quizzes and exams…

    “If a student didn’t perform well on a test, it is a sign that the test was too difficult”

    You know it. I hear this all the time. Heaven forfend that the blame for less-than-stellar test results should lie with the student. Usually, too, the ones that didn’t do well on the test never even thought of utilizing the instructor’s office hours.

    Entitled students? Yup – in spades.

    • It’s equally shocking how many students at the nation’s community colleges don’t ever open their textbooks – all semester long. I’m talking about ‘not even take the plastic wrap off the book’ level of not even opening their book…

  3. The problem starts from the beginning of k-12 and continues throughout – kids are passed along without any effort or mastery on their part. Even in HS, kids are spoon-fed. The teachers at my niece and nephew’s school always went over the tests the day before, so kids really didn’t have to read the material, take notes or study, as long as they paid attention that day. Ridiculous.

    My HS-principal FIL and my retired-HS-teacher brother both repeated the “learning is an active process, not a passive one” mantra to their students, at frequent and regular intervals – and demanded effort and mastery from their students. My brother took early retirement because of the pressure to give unearned As and Bs for C-level work, or worse.

    • And the spoon-feeding expectations continue into college. I’ve lost track of how many times students have come up to me at the beginning of a semester (or just prior to the first test), wondering if I’m going to have a review session or pass out study notes. It never crosses their mind that they should be the ones going through the materials, synthesizing the information and making some sort of attempt to at least see the big picture. I just point them to the book, which generally has chapter summaries, reviews, and tests up the wazoo, and then tell them that I really don’t see why I should make extra work for myself essentially replicating what they already have in their textbooks.

      • And if you don’t spoon feed them and hold their hand day by day, they go complain to the dean that you’re “not doing their job”…

  4. Mark Roulo says:

    This sense of entitlement is perfectly reasonable behavior by the students if the goal is a credential and not learning.

    For many students (maybe most?) I suspect that the credential is, in fact, what they are after.

    However, I’d be interested in knowing how one could *measure* this claimed growing sense of entitlement.

  5. Richard Aubrey says:

    Since the usual BA/S outside STEM is a credential, or it’s seen that way by many, including employers who are not allowed to discriminate against semi-literate HS grads, there’s no reason for a practical undergrad not to see it that way, too.
    “Go to college so you can get a better job.”
    As my father, himself a college grad, used to say, it means you’re trainable.
    I don’t think I heard many folks say, “Go to college so you can learn a bunch of stuff which may be difficult, and thus you’ll know enough to do well at a job, and even do well seeking employment because they know you’re prepared.”

    • Ponderosa says:

      The “Failure Is Not an Option” fad passed through our school a few years ago. The principal bought us all a book of that title. The upshot was that the ADULTS were to move heaven and earth to prevent kids from failing. That meant allowing redos of all tests and quizzes; weekly grade printouts; allowing the turning in of late work; mandatory after school homework club for kids with missing assignments (extra duty for teachers); and much more. It was all about ENABLING lazy and unmotivated and feckless kids by having teachers act as personal secretaries/counselors/academic coaches for kids; not about eradicating kids’ bad habits.

      I am anti-coddling, but some of my colleagues view this as anti-kid. Colleagues who agree with me remain reticent because of this. Unless there’s solidarity among the grown-ups, kids will punish the hard-line teachers with worse behavior and maligning comments to their influential parents. When I told a girl that I’d only give half-credit for her late homework, I heard her muttering, “Mrs. B. [a popular teacher] wouldn’t do that.” I suspect this girl has complained to her mom about me.

      • You are 100% correct, in every way. I agree with you so much that I can’t add anything to it! Your statement is perfect. 🙂

      • You also stated in just two paragraphs exactly why the average ‘life span’ of a K-12 teacher in the United States is 5 years. Who can take more than 5 years of being abused and maligned three ways (by students, parents, and administrators) like that?

      • Former Teacher says:

        Ponderosa said:
        “…kids will punish the hard-line teachers with worse behavior..”

        So true. This is ultimately why I quit teaching for the second time. I quit after 17 years then couldn’t stay away and started again teaching chemistry mid-year for kids whose teacher had been fired for unsavory acts with students. They hated me for having high standards, requiring them to work, and for just being there. I’m thankful for this experience, however, because I am finally out of teaching for good.

        • Teaching K-12 in the United States is a special kind of hell I wouldn’t wish on anyone. The abuse I took from principals, parents, and students on a regular basis… All three use teachers as their scapegoats, their punching bags… Then there was the constant reminder that we teachers were the peasants of the feudal K-12 system, the slaves to the parents (we’re supposed to be counselors, surrogate parents, etc. too? and attend EVERY school function that our students are in, meaning we can’t have a life of our own?), and victims of constant harrasment by the students.

  6. GEORGE LARSON says:


    If a teacher’s union does not protect competent teachers from unfair harassment from students, parents, and administrators, what good are a teacher’s union?

    • Supersub says:

      Well…they’re good for funneling money to state and national unions to promote policies that have little to do with education.

    • George, I think you answered your own question. 🙂

      • In my experience, teachers’ unions do protect competent teachers from unfair harassment.

        • Ponderosa says:

          Yes, tenure helps protect teachers from being fired simply for maintaining high standards. But here’s the stark reality: one teacher, thirty two kids. If the 32 act in concert to subvert the class, the teacher’s life is hell. The teacher knows he is, in some sense, hostage to the mob of students. This happens in college too: a former professor of mine faced this one year –he called it “the wolf pack”. People in groups can be really ugly and evil. In my ideal school, administrators would understand this propensity of the group to bully the teacher into easier assignments, and help him vigorously combat it. But I’ve never met such an administrator. So the mob exerts a lot of sway in most classrooms in America.

          • The inmates run the asylum in K-12 schools. It’s why they’re miserable failures. And the infection is starting to spread to college campuses now… Many community colleges are already infected at this point.

  7. One way that I’ve tried dealing with the “the test was too difficult/was a poor measure of what we learned” is by putting a grade distribution (number of scores over 90%, number of scores from 80-90%, and so on) on the board.

    Because that’s how *I* judge if I wrote a bad test – if no one earns over an 80%, there’s probably something wrong with the test. But usually, there are at least a few students earning As….and it seems that knowing an A is POSSIBLE quiets down some of the “unfair test” complaints.

    But yeah, I’ve seen an awful lot of “entitled” students. (And I’m in the STEM field). I’ve had people ask me for stuff or to do stuff that I’d have been embarrassed to even consider asking a prof.

    • I do this too. It eliminates students saying ‘Everybody failed’. I think that without posting the grade distribution, students would truly believe that ‘everybody failed’ or ‘everybody passed’ because my students tended to assort themselves in the first few weeks – my As and Bs seem to find each other quickly and wind up sitting together, so I often had ‘islands’ of certain grades in the classroom.

      • I once broke down statistics question by question when I taught hs physics. One day, while doing this, the ex-English teacher-ASSistant-principal-boss walked in to do an observation and complained that not everyone in class, apparently, was “mastering” the material.

        So this can certainly backfire, career-wise.

  8. This is THE #1 reason why there are far too many college students in this country – only about 1/3 of these adults should actually be in college – and WAY too many colleges in this country. Getting into a big, important, influential University is a point of pride; getting into Hatchback College is just ‘ho-hum’ because all Hatchback College really offers is a pandering service to those who only care about credentials. It’s time to put 75% of colleges out of business, and re-start vocational schools en masse (for example, Police Academies).