This post will focus on the recipient of the college education, the student. While many authors address the modern student both positively and negatively, I build the theme of this post with the following quote (with my slight paraphrasing) in mind.
The counts of the indictment are luxury, bad manners, contempt for authority, disrespect to elders, and a love for chatter in place of exercise. …
Children began to be the tyrants, not the slaves. They no longer rose from their seats when an elder entered the room; they contradicted their parents, chattered before company, gobbled up the goodies at the table, and committed various offenses against good tastes. They tyrannized over the pedagogy and schoolmasters. (Freeman 1912)
While the common attribution in this quote is from Socrates, it is not quite that old. This early 20th-century author provides their interpretation of the writings from the ancient Greek philosophers about children and students. So while the quote is not thousands of years old, the quote is over 100 years old and suggests complaints about the younger generation have substantially remained unchanged over time. Hopefully, I do not descend into generalizations about generations and instead use specific examples to explain the need for student responsibility.
Unlike previous posts, in this writing, I will share specific examples. These examples are from over 20 years of teaching at the university level. I will not cite many outside statistics but instead, express impressions from my experience at six different institutions. Finally, my perceptions of the correct direction for both student and institution are mine. They are not reflective of any institutional preference.
I will start with a great example of a student assuming responsibility and provide a compelling argument to his peers. It concerns attendance in class. Attendance at the university level is not a trivial matter, so let me explain the value of attendance. The positive story will follow this explanation of attendance.
Twice in 40 semesters of university teaching, I have made attendance optional in the sense that I did not assign any component of the final grade to attendance. Instead, I made it clear that I considered my lecture and in-class assignments, the expansion and learning a student should expect beyond what they gain from just reading the textbook. In other words, the additional value received from attending college. Not the value you could gain from just reading the material. I strongly encouraged students to attend as I felt it would improve their learning but left the ultimate decision to attend as their responsibility.
In the first instance of the non-mandatory attendance policy, the pass rate was under 60%, and the average grade was a D+. I waited many years before the next attempt at letting students have complete responsibility for attending class. Again, this means attendance has no direct impact on their final grade. Perhaps my explanation of why to attend was more compelling. Also, I had the previous class example, which I shared with the current students. Another explanation for the better outcomes is the students were better. In any event, the final grade outcomes were better but again significantly below my expectations and experience with other classes. The average final grade was 72%, and 10% failed the course.
As a department head, I am aware these outcomes happen when attendance is optional in other disciplines and with other professors. Attendance is a systemic problem at most universities. It is so critical that most universities mandate syllabi to address attendance policy in detail. This contrasts with previous generations that had the simple but obvious statement such as "students are expected to attend all classes." As shown in the following story, the situation does not have to be this way.
With that context in mind, I relate a discussion I overhead before an 8:00 AM class. One student who had car trouble explained to a group of other students why he made such an effort to be in class on time. In fact, he had gone around his apartment complex and asked several strangers if they were on their way to the university and if he could get a ride. According to my syllabus, the students in the class were incredulous. They pointed out that he could miss up to three classes without a grade penalty. The other students were correct about my syllabus policy. The diligent student explained that he had calculated the cost per class early in his college career. It was then that he decided it was a colossal waste of money to miss any class. It was like burning that cash as far as he was concerned.
This story and reasoning are from a student who readily admits his parents pay for his college expenses. To me, the point of this story is that some students are taking responsibility for gaining the value of their college education.
The next series of examples, however, show a different view of responsibility as expressed by students. The first is again from that most revealing of times, the minutes before class starts when various conversations occur.
This time a student and I are talking about the latest job interview she completed. She is explaining the interview ended with a job offer and that she was now weighing her three job offers. As the student and I began discussing the pros and cons of the various offers, another student interrupted. They had been eavesdropping. Their comment was, he wished he had those kinds of problems. I mentioned to the young man that if he had done the female student's legwork, he might have multiple offers to consider. I did not make that statement flippantly. I had set up two networking opportunities for this young man. Unfortunately, he had not followed up on either. As I continue to reflect on this incident over the years, I return to the point that the opportunities are there, but personal responsibility is missing.
The last vignette I share is on a systematic effort by my current institution to offer career opportunities to students. In this instance, my institution is fortunate to have two great departments that offer complementary but different majors. Students with a creative bent or desire should choose a major in a department different from mine. In contrast, students with business acumen and analytical outlooks should choose a major in my current department. As we tell students, you can achieve career aspirations with many different majors. However, in today's employment environment, employers seek specific skill sets. Therefore, it is easier if you are in the major expected by the employers.
This career outlook situation has existed for many years. Four years ago, a systematic and extensive campaign was instituted to ensure all prospective students and current students knew the situation. The goal was for the students to take personal responsibility for their choice of major. The university and department train every advisor on the different career options for these alternative majors. Every student receives information on the career paths associated with the various majors through written, verbal, and social media communications.
Additionally, when choosing one of these majors, each student meets individually with the department head of their respective major. And again, there is a conversation about the career options associated with the prospective major. This is an intentional and extensive effort to help students chose a major that advances their career aspirations. However, during all of this process, it is stressed that choosing a major is the student's responsibility.
This year, as part of the senior exit survey, students had an open-ended question; "What one thing would you like to share with the department?" Fourteen out of 80 responses, or 17.5%, expressed a lack of awareness about the career distinctions between the two departments and the alignment with career goals. I certainly can and do look at this as an opportunity to improve messaging to all students. However, I also wonder when the student's personal responsibility to pay attention to the advice and guidance begins.
One nonfinancial goal and benefit of a college education is developing individuals' awareness of their personal responsibility. It seems the institutions are providing the students with many opportunities in various learning and growth settings. Still, engagement in the learning process about personal responsibility is lacking by large percentages of students. I argue this extensive percentage statement because my exemplar examples are by no means unique to me. I found that between 10 and 40% of my students have failed courses that do not have a mandated attendance policy, meaning that students must be compelled to attend. Close to twenty percent of students are unaware of the systematic messaging about critical paths and decisions related to their major and career. Though I have no percentage, a significant number of students do not avail themselves of the personal and institutional resources provided to help them in their first career search.
It appears that personal responsibility can exist. See the example of the student that knew the cost per class. But personal responsibility seems to be waning. Perhaps it is time for the universities to let the pendulum shift over to increasing their personal responsibility. One step is allowing them to gauge and calculate the value of education and learning. Then, universities may need to believe in their own value proposition, provide the opportunity, and let the student attain the value. The implication is evident that the university should prepare for those students that fall short. The costs of a college education are high, and the consequences of failure are challenging. However, not providing consequences seems to diminish a core learning. Ultimately, students are responsible for the value of their collegiate education. It is possible that by mitigating the consequences of failing during college, the benefits of a complete understanding of personal responsibility through a lifetime may be severely diminished.
Many of you know that I am teaching B2B marketing #b2b #b2bmarketing using LinkedIn as the platform for the students to learn how to manage both a LeadGen and ABM campaign. Some may also know of my firm conviction that a university education is a transformative event. Combining these two important aspects of my life has led to this latest endeavor. I will be posting links to my blogs on the value ofHere are my essays.