Last week, The Washington Post published yet another piece on coddled college students, but this time the blame was on colleges themselves instead of on overprotective parents. In “Helicopter Parents Are Not the Only Problem. Colleges Coddle Students, too,” Jeffrey Selingo, former editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education and Professor of Practice at Arizona State University, argues that colleges share blame in a generation of students that can’t handle life challenges. Selingo writes, “In the past decade, college campuses have turned into one big danger-free zone, where students live in a bubble and are asked to take few, if any, risks in their education.”
This might all be alarming, if it were true. Instead, though, the entire piece is based on anecdotes and conjecture. It’s worth asking how long the US public is going to tolerate – and the media is going to broadcast – this endless stream of unsubstantiated millennial bashing.
Selingo says that college students live in a bubble, but, in fact, college campuses are as unsafe as ever. For instance, students aged 18 to 24 report about 526,000 violent crimes each year, according to the Violent Victimization of College Students report. Of those, 128,000 “involved a weapon or serious injury to the victim.” On October 1, nine were killed at Umpqua Community College. Then, only two weeks before Selingo published his piece a student was killed and three were injured in a shooting at Northern Arizona University, just north of where Selingo himself works. Since 2013 there have been at least 156 school shootings in the United States, nearly one a week, and many of these are on campuses of higher education.
We also know that one in five women is sexually assaulted in college, a horrifying statistic that certainly suggests a climate that is anything but safe. Hate crimes take place on campuses too; with 11.4 percent of all hate crimes in 2009 taking place in schools or colleges.
It’s worth asking how long the US public is going to tolerate – and the media is going to broadcast – this endless stream of unsubstantiated millennial bashing.
So, while it may be true that college campuses are often safer than the communities around them, it is still a mistake to call campuses a “danger-free zone.” The facts simply don’t support such a claim.
Selingo claims that at “many colleges, new students … live in luxurious apartment-like dorms.” But he doesn’t tell us where exactly that happens. At Penn State, where I teach, there are high-end and high-cost dorms for upperclassmen. But freshmen share tiny rooms that often have just enough space for two twin beds and two small desks.
Selingo worries that students don’t have to “manage conflicts,” but there is no proof that there has been any significant drop in dorm-mate skirmishes. He doesn’t like the idea that roommates can connect on social media before school starts. And yet, he seems to ignore the fact that the practice was a response to research that showed dorm-mate conflict was one of the top five reasons students drop out of college. Point is, students didn’t “manage conflict” much better before; they often dropped out to avoid it.
How can a faculty member write an article about coddled college students when the students in his own classes have only a 43 percent chance of graduating in four years?
The real bulk of Selingo’s piece, though, is on the many ways that students are offered academic support by colleges. He talks about grade inflation and complex advising programs that choose classes for students. His point is that students lack training in navigating a complex system, since the work is done for them. And such a lack of skills will hurt them later on the job market.
As he puts it, “No longer are the nation’s college campuses places where only the fittest survive, the place where only one of your classmates to the right or the left will make it to graduation.”
In Selingo’s world, college is easy and graduation is basically guaranteed. Bet you are guessing that Arizona State University, where Selingo teaches, must be a pretty cushy place to go to college. No violence, no roommate conflict, easy grades and guaranteed graduation. All you have to do is get in and then ASU will take care of everything else for you, right?
Wrong. ASU has a four-year graduation rate of 43 percent. At ASU, it is indeed the case that only one student to the right or left of you will actually make it to graduation.
So what do we make of this? How can a faculty member write an article about coddled college students when the students in his own classes have only a 43 percent chance of graduating in four years? Maybe, instead of spending time maligning them and the so-called overprotective support systems they have, he should actually be a support system himself.
It is time to stop perpetuating the myth that millennials are coddled, lack resilience and are ill equipped for the future.
Besides Selingo’s list of unsubstantiated ways students are babied, we actually have a host of proof that today’s students may have inherited one of the most complex and challenging college environments of all time. As I’ve written about before, this generation of students has it anything but easy. From student debt to a tough job market, from a rising population of first generation students to students working while in school, there is a host of real challenges students face. When we look at the data, we find that today’s students may be the most resilient generation in decades.
A recent NPR story by millennial Maanvi Singh dispelled the notion that her generation lacks resilience. She cites a list of articles that all perpetuate the idea that her generation is a bunch of losers that won’t grow up. But then, she wonders, where is the proof of all this? Only to find that there is “no conclusive research.” None.
It is time to stop perpetuating the myth that millennials are coddled, lack resilience and are ill equipped for the future. It’s also time to stop demonizing the parents and institutions trying to support them. If anyone deserves blame, it might be the ones that use sloppy logic, poor evidence and loose anecdotes to destroy the image of an entire generation.
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