Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Busting the Myth On Older Students

The attitudes we see in students have nothing to do with their age or generation. I teach adult students in an accelerated program at a small liberal arts college. They are all at least 30 years old; many are in their 40s or even 50s. Except for slight variations in the excuses (problems with jobs, spouses, and kids as opposed to athletics, roommates, and too much partying), I get just as many slackers in these classes as I did at more traditional Big State U. These students expect that I will drop everything immediately and come up with extra credit assignments for them two days before the end of the semester when they realize that they’re failing. They pore over the syllabus trying to find loopholes that they can exploit to their advantage. They parse every word I say in class about assignments to try and justify their bizarre interpretation of the instructions. If they spent as much time with their textbooks they’d probably ace all the tests and make all this agony unnecessary.

The sense of entitlement in some of these older students may be even stronger because they’ve been told over and over again by the administration how wonderful they are for making such sacrifices of time (and money) for their educations. Thus just showing up for class once a week warrants at least a C, and if they actually crack open a book or do some homework, God help the professor who doesn’t respond with a B. If we give them the grades they actually earn, why they (and their money) might not return next semester. Students in this program pay full price for their credits, so it is a cash cow for the rest of college, which has to offer lots of scholarship money to the traditional undergraduates to get them to come at all. In fact, when I attended my first faculty meeting several years ago, one of the deans actually made the comparison between our students and customers – “It’s been shown that one unhappy customer will tell at least ten other people about their bad experience …..yada, yada yada” You’ve probably heard it before.

There’s a mysterious attitude shift that occurs in a lot of people the minute they become “students,” young or old, and it’s not pretty.