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RESEARCH REPORT

Perceptions of Academic Rights and Responsibilities in Physical Therapy Students and Faculty

Goehring, Meri Tienn PT, PhD, GCS, CWS; Kinne, Bonni Lynn PT, DHSc; Vaughn, Daniel Wayne PT, PhD, OMPT

Author Information
Journal of Physical Therapy Education: September 2020 - Volume 34 - Issue 3 - p 180-185
doi: 10.1097/JTE.0000000000000142
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Abstract

INTRODUCTION

Most of the faculty members who teach in a physical therapy program are baby boomers, individuals born between 1943 and 1960, or Gen Xers, individuals born between 1961 and 1979.1 By contrast, most of today's physical therapy students are Millennials, individuals born between 1980 and 2000. One of the biggest differences between these 3 generations is that most Millennials are digital natives, individuals who were introduced to technology at a very early age.2 The Millennial generation is characterized by several positive traits such as being confident and tolerant, placing an emphasis on achievement and family, and having an aptitude for using new technology.1 However, Millennials also tend to possess a more inflated sense of generalized entitlement than do baby boomers or Gen Xers.2 One type of generalized entitlement is known as academic entitlement, sometimes referred to as student consumerism. Academic entitlement has been defined as “the tendency to possess an expectation of academic success without taking personal responsibility for achieving that success”3 or as “the expectation that one should receive certain positive academic outcomes (eg, high grades) in academic settings, often independent of performance.”4 The word “expectation” is used in both of these definitions. However, students may perceive an expectation to be a legal, social, and/or ethical right. Therefore, in this context, academic entitlement refers to an increased sense of one's academic rights (ie, receiving a satisfactory grade) along with a decreased sense of one's academic responsibilities (ie, submitting a quality assignment). A recent study5 found that academic entitlement was moderately correlated with generalized entitlement. However, it is unclear whether individuals in the Millennial generation perceive their academic rights and responsibilities in a significantly different manner than do individuals in the baby boomer or Gen X generations.6 Therefore, the purpose of this study was to compare the perceived academic entitlement of physical therapy students with the way in which physical therapy faculty members perceived their students' academic rights and responsibilities. It was hypothesized that the student participants in this study will value their academic rights over their academic responsibilities significantly more than the faculty member participants believe that they should.

REVIEW OF LITERATURE

Achacoso7 was one of the first individuals to attempt to measure academic entitlement. During the data collection phase of her 2002 doctoral dissertation, a 21-item academic entitlement questionnaire was administered to 312 undergraduate students. The students were asked to respond to each item using a 7-point Likert scale that ranged from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). Twelve of the items were related to academic entitlement beliefs, and the other 9 items were related to academic entitlement actions. Since that time, several researchers have sought to create a valid questionnaire that measures academic entitlement. The authors of the 3 recent peer-reviewed journal articles have been credited with developing the most well-known academic entitlement questionnaires to date.3-5

In 2008, Greenberger et al5 created a 15-item academic entitlement questionnaire and then had 466 undergraduate students enrolled at a public institution complete this questionnaire during “study 1” and 353 undergraduate students enrolled at the same institution complete this questionnaire during “study 2.” Student responses to each item were recorded on a 6-point Likert scale that ranged from 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree). In “study 1,” the authors compared the participant scores on the academic entitlement questionnaire with the participant responses to 7 other variables. The results of “study 1” demonstrated that academic entitlement was positively correlated with 3 types of generalized entitlement and narcissism and that it was negatively correlated with self-esteem, social commitment, and work orientation. In “study 2,” the authors compared the participant scores on the academic entitlement questionnaire with the participant responses to 8 other variables. The results of “study 2” demonstrated that academic entitlement was positively correlated with 3 types of parenting practices, academic dishonesty, achievement anxiety, and extrinsic motivation. Parental warmth and student grade point average were not significantly related to academic entitlement. The internal consistency validity of the questionnaire of Greenberger et al5 was found to be 0.87 in “study 1” and 0.86 in “study 2.” Although the questionnaire of Greenberger et al5 was used in both “studies,” there was no overlap between the 7 other variables included in “study 1” and the 8 other variables included in “study 2.”

In 2009, Chowning and Campbell3 created a 15-item academic entitlement questionnaire and then had 453 undergraduate students complete this questionnaire during “study 1” and 911 undergraduate students complete this questionnaire during “study 2.” Student responses to each item were recorded on a 7-point Likert scale that ranged from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). The purpose of 10 of the items was to assess externalized responsibility, and the purpose of the other 5 items was to assess entitled expectations. The results of “study 1” demonstrated that men were more academically entitled than women when the externalized responsibility part of the questionnaire was analyzed. There was no significant difference between men and women regarding the entitled expectations part of the questionnaire, and no significant differences were found on either part of the questionnaire when the academic entitlement of first-year students was compared with that of upperclassmen. The results of “study 2” demonstrated that men were more academically entitled than women and that upperclassmen were more academically entitled than first-year students when the externalized responsibility part of the questionnaire was analyzed. There were no significant gender or level of education differences regarding the entitled expectations part of the questionnaire. The internal consistency validity of the Chowning and Campbell3 questionnaire was found to be 0.81 for the 10-item externalized responsibility subscale and 0.62 for the 5-item entitled expectations subscale.

In 2011, Kopp et al4 created an 8-item academic entitlement questionnaire and then had 2,152 undergraduate students complete this questionnaire. Student responses to each item were recorded on a 7-point Likert scale that ranged from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). The results of this study demonstrated that academic entitlement was positively correlated with 2 types of locus of control measures, self-esteem, psychological entitlement, and work avoidance. Academic entitlement was negatively correlated with effort and mastery motivation. Internal locus of control was not significantly related to academic entitlement. The internal consistency validity of the study by Kopp et al4 was found to be between 0.81 and 0.84.

Several researchers8-20 have recently used these 3 questionnaires to measure the academic entitlement of undergraduate students enrolled in American universities. Academic entitlement was measured using the questionnaire of Greenberger et al5 in 3 of these studies,8,14,16 the Chowning and Campbell3 questionnaire in 9 of these studies,9-11,13,15,17-20 and the questionnaire by Kopp et al4 in the other study.12 By investigating the possible causes and consequences of academic entitlement, each of the 13 studies8-20 has provided valuable information about why academic entitlement is such an important topic in contemporary higher education.

The possible causes of academic entitlement may be categorized as family factors and personal factors. Four of the 13 studies8,14,15,18 investigated family factors that may be the source of a greater sense of academic entitlement. By using measurement tools developed by Buri,21 Hovestadt et al,22 and Skinner et al,23 as well as by reviewing family demographic information, it appears that academic entitlement is directly related to having permissive parents,8,18 having wealthy parents,14 and/or experiencing a dysfunctional upbringing.15 Four of the 13 studies9,10,17,20 investigated personal factors that may be the source of a greater sense of academic entitlement. By using measurement tools developed by Donnellan et al,24 Ashton and Lee,25 and Eison et al,26 as well as by reviewing personal demographic information, it appears that academic entitlement is directly related to possessing various personality traits,9,17 placing a heavy emphasis on social media,10 and/or placing a heavy emphasis on grades.20

The possible consequences of academic entitlement may be categorized as personal issues and classroom issues. Three of the 13 studies8,17,19 investigated personal issues that may result from a greater sense of academic entitlement. By using the measurement tools developed by Radloff,27 Buss and Perry,28 James,29 and Jonason and Webster,30 it appears that academic entitlement is directly related to being depressed,8 being aggressive,17 and/or demonstrating uncivil behaviors.19 Seven of the 13 studies11-17 investigated classroom issues that may result from a greater sense of academic entitlement. By using the measurement tools developed by Reeve and Tseng,31 Tuominen-Soini and Salmela-Aro,32 Alkandari,33 and Watson and Sottile,34 it appears that academic entitlement is directly related to being less engaged with both professors and assignments,11 demonstrating academic dishonesty15,16 and unprofessional behaviors.12-14,17

Although several researchers8-20 have attempted to measure the academic entitlement of undergraduate students, very few studies have investigated the same issue as it relates to graduate students. In addition, only one study6 has attempted to measure the academic entitlement of graduate students enrolled in a health care curriculum. During this study, both the 15-item questionnaire of Chowning and Campbell3 and the 8-item questionnaire of Kopp et al4 were administered to 243 doctor of pharmacy students. The results of the study demonstrated that academic entitlement was negatively correlated with academic success.

Neither the academic entitlement of physical therapy students nor the way in which physical therapy faculty members perceive their students' academic rights and responsibilities have been previously investigated. Therefore, this study is relevant because if, as hypothesized, the student participants value their academic rights over their academic responsibilities significantly more than the faculty member participants believe that they should, strategies designed to narrow that gap will need to be created and implemented. These strategies may help avoid some of the negative personal and classroom consequences that appear to be directly related to a greater sense of academic entitlement.8,11-17,19 In other words, these strategies may result in students who demonstrate decreased depression, aggression, and uncivil behaviors and who exhibit improved engagement, academic honesty, and professional behaviors.

SUBJECTS

This study took place at a public liberal arts university in the Midwest part of the United States. All members of the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) faculty at the university and the university's DPT students from the graduating classes of 2018 (outgoing third-year students), 2019 (students between their second and third year of the DPT program), 2020 (students between their first and second year of the DPT program), and 2021 (incoming first-year students) were asked to complete an academic entitlement questionnaire. Those individuals who completed the questionnaire were considered the study's participants.

METHODS

The research design included a survey methodology approach using the Qualtrics software platform. The data collection tool was the 15-item academic entitlement questionnaire created by Greenberger et al.5 This particular tool was chosen because it was shown to have excellent internal consistency validity in the initial study (alpha = 0.86–0.87) and in a subsequent study by Barton and Hirsch8 (alpha = 0.90) Although the internal consistency validity of the tool of Kopp et al4 was similar to that of the tool of Greenberger et al5 (alpha = 0.81–0.84), it was not considered feasible for use in the current study because it only contained 8 items. The Chowning and Campbell3 tool was not considered feasible for use in the current study for 2 reasons. First, one of the tool's subscales had a relatively low internal consistency validity (alpha = 0.62). Second, this tool may be confusing to some participants and researchers because a higher score on 13 of the items indicated a greater sense of academic entitlement, whereas a higher score on the other 2 items indicated a lesser sense of academic entitlement.

Although completing each item of the academic entitlement questionnaire of Greenberger et al5 in this current study, the DPT faculty members were given the following instructions: “Please rate how you think students should feel about this statement. There are no correct or incorrect ratings, so please give your honest reactions.” The DPT students, on the other hand, were given the following instructions while completing each item: “Please rate how you feel about this statement. There are no correct or incorrect ratings, so please give your honest reaction.” For both the individual questionnaire items and the entire questionnaire, a higher score indicated a greater sense of academic entitlement.

An email inviting participation in the study was sent to all members of the DPT faculty and to the DPT students from the graduating classes of 2018, 2019, and 2020 on July 1, 2018. The DPT students from the graduating class of 2021 were invited to participate via an email sent on September 1, 2018. To solicit as many participants as possible, the DPT faculty members and the DPT students from the graduating classes of 2019 and 2020 were sent 3 monthly email reminders. The DPT students from the graduating classes of 2018 and 2021 were sent one email reminder a month after the questionnaire became available to them.

Once the data collection procedures were completed on November 1, 2018, the data analysis was performed using SAS 9.4. A comparison of how the DPT faculty members and the DPT students answered the individual questionnaire items was calculated using the Fisher Exact Test. This test was chosen because the assumptions of chi square statistics were not met because of the low sample size of the faculty. Although alpha was initially set as 0.05, it was ultimately set as 0.003 through a Monte Carlo estimate. This estimate minimized the chance of a type I error that may have occurred when each participant was essentially tested on the same set of data 15 times. A comparison of how the DPT faculty members and the DPT students responded to the entire questionnaire was calculated using Cronbach's Alpha. A P-value of <.05 was considered statistically significant.

RESULTS

The participant demographics are shown in Table 1. The 2 clinical characteristics included in this table are sex (men vs women) and age (baby boomers vs Gen Xers vs Millennials).

Table 1. - Participant Demographics
Clinical Characteristics DPT Faculty (n = 12) DPT Students (n = 146)
Sex
 Males 4 (33%) 38 (26%)
 Females 8 (67%) 108 (74%)
Age
 Baby Boomers 4 (33%) 0 (0%)
 Gen Xers 8 (67%) 1 (0.7%)
Millennials 0 (0%) 145 (99.3%)
Abbreviation: DPT = Doctor of Physical Therapy.

When the individual questionnaire items were taken into consideration, a greater percentage of DPT students, as compared to DPT faculty members, agreed (ie, they responded strongly agree, agree, or somewhat agree) with 13 of the 15 items. On the other hand, a greater percentage of DPT faculty members, as compared to DPT students, agreed with the following 2 items: (1) I would think poorly of a professor who didn't respond quickly to a phone message I left him or her; and (2) A professor should be willing to meet with me at a time that works best for me, even if inconvenient for the professor. Despite these findings, there was no statistically significant difference between the way in which the DPT faculty members answered the individual questionnaire items and the way in which the DPT students responded to each question (Table 2). If alpha had been maintained as 0.05, a statistically significant higher percentage of DPT students, as compared to DPT faculty members, would have agreed with the following 2 items: (1) If I have explained to my professor that I am trying hard, I think he/she should give me some consideration with respect to my course grade; and (2) Teachers often give me lower grades than I deserve on paper assignments. However, alpha was ultimately set as 0.003 through a Monte Carlo estimate.

Table 2. - Comparison of DPT Faculty Responses and DPT Student Responses on the Individual Questionnaire Items
Individual Questionnaire Item % of Faculty Who Agreed With the Item % of Students Who Agreed With the Item Monte Carlo Estimate for Fisher's Exact Test (Alpha = 0.003)
If I have explained to my professor that I am trying hard, I think he/she should give me some consideration with respect to my course grade. 8.33 37.93 P = .0245
I feel I have been poorly treated if a professor cancels an appointment with me on the same day as we were supposed to meet. 25.00 28.08 P = .4616
If I have completed most of the reading for a class, I deserve a B in that course. 0.00 4.79 P = 1.0000
If I have attended most classes for a course, I deserve at least a grade of B. 0.00 10.34 P = .5610
Teachers often give me lower grades than I deserve on paper assignments. 0.00 2.05 P = .0290
Professors who won't let me take an exam at a different time because of my personal plans (eg, vacation or other trip that is important to me) are too strict 8.33 20.55 P = .4489
Teachers often give me lower grades than I deserve on exams. 0.00 3.45 P = .1225
A professor should be willing to lend me his/her course notes if I ask for them. 8.33 22.60 P = .5042
I would think poorly of a professor who didn't respond the same day to an e-mail I sent. 0.00 12.33 P = .4485
If I'm not happy with my grade from last quarter, the professor should allow me to do an additional assignment. 8.33 10.96 P = .8490
Professors have no right to be annoyed with me if I tend to come late to class or tend to leave early. 0.00 8.90 P = .0677
A professor should not be annoyed with me if I receive an important call during class. 16.67 42.47 P = .0801
I would think poorly of a professor who didn't respond quickly to a phone message I left him or her. 8.33 4.11 P = .2986
A professor should be willing to meet with me at a time that works best for me, even if inconvenient for the professor. 16.67 4.11 P = .1839
A professor should let me arrange to turn in an assignment late if the due date interferes with my vacation plans. 0.00 4.11 P = 1.0000
Abbreviation: DPT = Doctor of Physical Therapy.

When the entire questionnaire was taken into consideration, the overall academic entitlement of the DPT students was significantly greater than the way in which the DPT faculty members perceived their students' academic rights and responsibilities (P = .0452). In other words, the DPT students valued their academic rights over their academic responsibilities significantly more than the DPT faculty members believed that they should (Table 3). One reason why the results of the entire questionnaire were statistically significant, whereas the results of the individual questionnaire items were not, may be the fact that categorical data had to be converted to quantitative data for analysis.

Table 3. - Comparison of DPT Faculty Responses and DPT Student Responses on the Entire Questionnaire
Group Cronbach's Alpha Sample Size Mean Score SD t, df, P (Satterthwaite)
DPT Faculty 0.69 10 32.9000 7.9085 t = −2.25, df = 11.33, P = .0452a
DPT Students 0.82 146 38.8621 10.5347
Abbreviation: DPT = Doctor of Physical Therapy.
aSignificant difference (P < .05).

DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION

The purpose of this study was to compare the perceived academic entitlement of physical therapy students with the way in which physical therapy faculty members perceived their students' academic rights and responsibilities. Although there was no statistically significant difference between the way in which the DPT faculty members answered the individual questionnaire items and the way in which the DPT students responded to each question, 3 interesting findings arose.

The first of those was that a greater percentage of DPT faculty members, as compared to DPT students, agreed (ie, they responded strongly agree, agree, or somewhat agree) with the following 2 items: (1) I would think poorly of a professor who didn't respond quickly to a phone message I left him or her; and (2) A professor should be willing to meet with me at a time that works best for me, even if inconvenient for the professor. This finding may be related to a concept known as servant leadership. Servant leadership has been defined as a situation in which “care [is] taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people's highest priority needs are being served.”35 A 2012 dissertation found that most university faculty members demonstrate high levels of servant leadership.36 Because servant leadership is associated with compassion and self-sacrifice,35 it is possible that many faculty members put the needs of their students ahead of their own needs.

The second interesting finding was that on 14 of the 15 items, the percentage of DPT students who agreed with each statement was less than the percentage of participants who agreed with each statement in the study by Greenberger et al.5 It is important to note that the current study included only graduate students, all of whom were at least 22 years of age, whereas the study by Greenberger et al5 included only undergraduate students who were 20 years of age on average. Although the viewpoint of Campbell et al37 is that entitlement manifests itself as a fixed personality trait throughout the lifespan, Tett and Guterman38 have proposed that personality traits, such as entitlement, are much more fluid and situational. Therefore, it is possible that as individuals get older, they may become less entitled. A recent study supported this theory when it found that the older participants demonstrated less academic entitlement than the younger participants.14

The third interesting finding was that the one item on which the percentage of DPT students who agreed with the statement was greater than the percentage of participants who agreed with the statement in the study by Greenberger et al5 was as follows: A professor should not be annoyed with me if I receive an important call during class. In 2010, 2 years after the study by Greenberger et al5 was published, only 20.2% of the United States population owned a smartphone.39 By the time the data were collected for this present study, smartphones were owned by 69.6% of all Americans. According to a recent study, college students average at least one to 2 hours of cell phone use each day.40 In addition, up to 95% of all college students have a cell phone in their possession when they enter the classroom41; and approximately 80% of these individuals use their cell phone in some capacity when class material is being taught.42

As just mentioned, there was no statistically significant difference between the way in which the DPT faculty members answered the individual questionnaire items and the way in which the DPT students responded to each question. However, when the entire questionnaire was taken into consideration, the overall academic entitlement of the DPT students was significantly greater than the way in which the DPT faculty members perceived their students' academic rights and responsibilities. Because the DPT students valued their academic rights over their academic responsibilities significantly more than the DPT faculty members believed that they should, it is important to create and implement strategies designed to narrow this gap. A proactive strategy would be to adopt appropriate, transparent expectations for each course.43 These expectations could be conveyed in the course syllabus and in the assignment rubrics. If academic entitlement exists, it is best to deal with the situation right away.44 A delay in implementing strategies to counteract this entitlement may result in adverse student behaviors associated with that entitlement.

There were several limitations associated with this study. First, the study only included faculty members and students from a single institution. This fact may have affected the generalizability of the study. Second, although the questionnaire was administered by an individual outside the Department of Physical Therapy, the questionnaire instructions included an invitation from the Physical Therapy Department Chair to participate in the study. This fact may have affected which faculty members and students ultimately participated in the study. Third, the student participants were from 4 different cohorts (from incoming first-year students to outgoing third-year students). This fact may have affected the results of the study because some literature has suggested that individuals may become less entitled over time.14,38 Finally, the intent of the study was to investigate academic entitlement through the lens of different generations. However, the hierarchical role differential that existed between the faculty members and students may have also affected how each group of participants responded to the questionnaire items.

Despite these limitations, this was the first study that investigated the academic entitlement of DPT students. It was also the first academic entitlement study that included faculty members as participants. Both proactive and reactive strategies have been designed to narrow the gap between the perceived academic entitlement of physical therapy students and the way in which physical therapy faculty members perceived their students' academic rights and responsibilities.43,44 Future research should examine the efficacy of each of these strategies through quantitative and/or qualitative investigations. For example, a randomized controlled trial could compare the academic entitlement of students who have been provided with appropriate, transparent expectations versus those who have not. In addition, qualitative feedback could be solicited from faculty members who begin to address academic entitlement in a more timely manner compared with the delayed feedback that they may have been previously using. It may also be useful if future studies compared academic entitlement in different universities, including public and private institutions; between undergraduate, graduate, and professional students; and/or between different ages or cohorts of students.

In summary, neither the academic entitlement of physical therapy students nor the way in which physical therapy faculty members perceive their students' academic rights and responsibilities had been previously investigated. This study found that some DPT students may have an inflated sense of their academic entitlement. Therefore, DPT faculty members should explore meaningful ways in which to convey expectations regarding academic rights and responsibilities. As previously mentioned, transparent expectations for each course could be conveyed in the course syllabus and in the assignment rubrics.43 Other strategies suggested in the literature include a change in admission and recruitment policies and procedures, a modification of the way in which faculty members provide student assessment and feedback, administrative support when faculty members address student academic entitlement issues, and an emphasis on student responsibility for their own knowledge acquisition and ultimate success.45 In addition, because many of the students now entering college are members of Generation Z (born after the year 2000), future research should explore the phenomenon of academic entitlement in this next generational cohort to better prepare the faculty members for effective education and engagement of Generation Z students.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

We thank Daniel Weglarz, Nathaniel DeGraaf, Aubree Batchelor, and Alyssa Hawkes for their assistance with the statistics.

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Keywords:

Academic entitlement; Millennials; Physical therapy

© 2020 Academy of Physical Therapy Education, APTA