Are today’s college students coddled—or overburdened?

Countering the prevailing narrative that students are increasingly entitled and difficult to teach, a commentary in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Sara Goldrick-Rab and Jesse Stommel asserts that today’s college students face significant challenges, requiring closer attention and intervention from universities. Instead of feeling sorry for professors with under-engaged and “coddled” students who criticize professors on, the authors write, educators and administrators should improve classroom experiences for “the most overburdened and undersupported [students] in American history.” Goldrick-Rab—founder of the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice and professor of higher-education policy and sociology at Temple University—and Stommel—executive director of teaching and learning technologies at the University of Mary Washington—describe a student population with very different circumstances than those faced by the professors writing class syllabi:

  • More than one-quarter of today’s students are parents;
  • Nearly three-quarters have a job;
  • More than one-half receive Pell Grants that are insufficient to cover the full cost of college;
  • Many are not only responsible for paying for college but also for helping with family expenses;
  • Work requirements have increased obstacles to governmental support for food-insecure students; and
  • Academic advisors often carry much heavier student loads, meaning students get less support.

These facts are “neglected by many researchers and by too many faculty members who think of their own experiences in college rather than their students’ when crafting teaching plans,” Goldrick-Rab and Stommel note.

Nonetheless, the authors agree that some student evaluation systems of professors are flawed and harmful to professors, especially given the weight they’re given in the review, promotion, and tenure processes. But instead of blaming students, the authors call for university administrators to better support professors and provide “more, not fewer, ways to include students in conversations about the future of teaching and learning in college.”

Only through “responsive, inclusive, adaptive, challenging, and compassionate” student-professor relations can colleges enrich class participation, to the benefit of both students and professors, and promote positive outcomes for students, such as degree completion without crushing debt.

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