College graduation season is upon us, at least for institutions running on a semester calendar (sadly, Union’s trimester system means we have another month to go). This means the start of the annual surge of Very Serious op-eds about what education means, giving advice to graduates, etc. The New York Times gets things rolling with an op-ed from the people who brought us the Academically Adrift kerfuffle a few months back. As I wrote at the time, I am underwhelmed by their argument. In fact, I would let it go entirely, were it not for a new bit that kind of creeps me out. In this new op-ed, they put the blame for the dire situation on a sense of student entitlement, writing:
The situation reflects a larger cultural change in the relationship between students and colleges. The authority of educators has diminished, and students are increasingly thought of, by themselves and their colleges, as “clients” or “consumers.” When 18-year-olds are emboldened to see themselves in this manner, many look for ways to attain an educational credential effortlessly and comfortably. And they are catered to accordingly. The customer is always right.
Federal legislation has facilitated this shift. The funds from Pell Grants and subsidized loans, by being assigned to students to spend on academic institutions they have chosen rather than being packaged as institutional grants for colleges to dispense, have empowered students — for good but also for ill. And expanded privacy protections have created obstacles for colleges in providing information on student performance to parents, undercutting a traditional check on student lassitude.
While I certainly have moments when I rail against an excessive sense of entitlement on the part of students, the students in question are generally not eligible for Pell Grants, which are direct cash payments to students from the neediest families, and many of them probably don’t qualify for subsidized Stafford loans, either, which require a demonstration of financial need, though the requirements aren’t as strict as for the Pell Grants.
The students who show the strongest sense of entitlement come not from the lower middle class, but from the upper. They’ve got designer clothes, shiny new laptops, and nicer cars than most of the faculty. They’re mostly paying full tuition, or at most getting financial aid in the form of private loans, not grants or loans from the federal government.
They are, in short, the children of the assumed audience of the New York Times editorial page. Which is probably why programs to benefit poor families are the things called out in the op-ed. After all, we wouldn’t want to annoy the paying customers.