Consuming college

November 26, 1996|By Amy Wu

THORNWOOD, N.Y. -- A new book entitled ''Generation X Goes To College'' shows college kids sleeping through lectures and snoring through seminars without shame. The book argues that many students feel that they've paid for a right to do whatever they want in class. Where once good grades were the reward of hard work, now the theory seems to be that good grades are an entitlement the student-customers have purchased.

As a recent college graduate, I can attest to this angry, slacking attitude some young people seem to have adopted. Griping about college expenses began at freshman orientation, when my fellow freshmen and I complained of the cost of our tuition, the whopping price of a Biology 101 book and the run-down, yet high-rent dorms. Popular conversation openers included bitching about financial aid or bashing student debt.

A pattern soon emerged. In a physiology class, my classmates moaned and begged for less work when the professor assigned a project that she thought would be fun. In ''Writing Workshop 101,'' my classmates howled at the professor who suggested we reschedule two missed classes. ''Oh just let it slide,'' one young man said. ''I need my sleep.''

One of the most popular classes was ''Media In America'' whose professor, himself a former slacker, went over the questions in class before asking them on tests. He received a standing ovation for an open-book test. ''Consider this an early Christmas present,'' he said, smiling proudly. It was no surprise that 85 percent of the class received A's. To me, it seemed a bit like cheating.

A teaching-assistant friend discovered that the key to being a popular educator was being a lazy one. He was not popular; he gave a lot of pop quizzes and held a lot of study sessions. Lazy educators breed lazy students, he believed.

The you-owe-me attitude of many college students begins in high school, when college-bound kids and their parents stare in shock at college costs that reach $28,000 annually at the most prestigious institutions. Those whose families can manage the price come to campus thinking, ''Be nice to me because I'm the consumer,'' or ''They wouldn't have a job without us.''

In reporting class one of my friends cursed out the professor whenever she received a low grade. ''This guy owes me a good grade; without me, he wouldn't be here and he would be out of a job,'' she said bitterly. The same refrain was sung in the long lines at the dean's office during registration. One irate young woman looked at a secretary and said, ''Hey you're supposed to be nice to me, my parents are paying a lot of money.''

Purchasing a diploma

Higher education seems more like a necessity than a choice. Even entry-level jobs require a B.A. No wonder the number of college applications and early- acceptance applications shot up last year in spite of tuition increases.

But young people paying six figures for their diploma expect the sugar instead of the substance. I confess to similar feelings at times. My friends and I often gravitated to easier classes like ''Psychology 101'' and ''Electric Piano,'' which we knew had light loads and were sure to earn us A's. Some of us took classes ''Broadway Shows'' (you see one show every week) and ''Interviewing Techniques.'' There are classes about Elvis' music, UFOs and even circus classes at some prestigious institutions, offering tight-rope walking and clowning.

College hunting has become something close to catalog shopping. This year there is not only one Best College book, but Time and Newsweek have joined US News & World Report's tradition of ranking schools to make choosing a college easy for parents and kids looking more at labels than substance and what the programs offer.

Employers and companies complain of a generation unprepared for the work force and the work load that awaits them. It is a consequence of seeing college as part of the consumer culture. Educators become employees and students become employers. College becomes the Kmart and the student the consumer. College students are getting lazier, and soon they will be too brain-dead to figure out what happened to them.

Amy Wu is a free-lance writer.

Pub Date: 11/26/96

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