Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Student Apathy Time

At my institution, it's the time of year when we do advising and registration for the spring.  Current students show up for visits with their faculty advisors (I'm one of them) and build an academic schedule for next semester.

All of these are current students.  They're in an academic major and taking courses.  For some, this fall is their first semester in college and others have been here longer.

Before my advisees even show up for the appointment, I pull their folder, print out their transcript of past and current courses, and sit down with their program planning sheet to see what they've had and what they still need to take.  Then I write up a list of suggested courses for spring.   It's not rocket science. All of the information I have is also available to the students and is on the college website and in the college catalog.

When the advisees show up I ask them "Have you thought about what you want to take next semester?"  A small percentage of my advisees say "Yes, here's what I wrote down" and they hand me a sheet with selected courses and it typically matches up very well with what I had written down (in the context of each student's individual preferences / work schedule / family obligations / etc.).  We enter the courses into the computer and they're registered in two minutes.

No problem.

Most of the students, however, are coming in completely unprepared.  It hasn't even occurred to them to think about what they might want to take in the following semester.  They want me to tell them (even though they know a lot more about their circumstances than I do and have access to the same information I do).

Now I guess I'm odd.  When I was in college I remember looking through the college catalog and thinking "Wow, this course looks neat" and "I'd love to take this course."  Is that weird?

I also can't count the number of times I've sat with a student and said "You need a social science elective.  These are courses in areas like psychology, history, political science, sociology, economics..."  The student just sits and stares at me.  Then they'll ask "Which is easier?"  What do I do with that?

I was a science major in college and loved courses I took just for fun in areas like psychology (Psychology of Consciousness was my favorite), anthropology, and sociology (my favorite there was a topics course on mass movements using Eric Hoffer's The True Believer).  I wish I could still be a college student and take interesting courses like that for fun.

Even worse is when a student needs a general elective - in other words any fucking course in the college catalog - and they sit there like a lump with no interest in anything.  I actually ask them "What interests you?" and they have no freaking answer.  Nothing interests them!  I swear to God, I just want to reach into my desk, pull out an application for McDonalds, and pass it over saying "Here, you do NOT belong in college, get the fuck out!"

Yes, I guess I'm a mean SOB and, no, I don't say these things (that's what distinguishes true lunatics from people like me - I don't act on all of my urges and inner thoughts).  I gently suggest psychology 101 or some Earth science or biology course for non-science majors or an art or music appreciation course.  Then I get quizzed on how good the professor is (like I'd bad mouth a colleague), how many assignments and exams are given (how would I know?), or if they could take it on a very specific day or time (probably not, you take it when it's offered).  Often they'll simply choose a course based on the time slot it's offered.  That makes me sad.

Nothing's harder for a professor than having a class full of students who simply don't care about anything (including their own education).  We live in an awesome, fascinating world - why wouldn't you want to learn more about it?  It's completely alien to me.


  1. You are more patient then I would be in that situation. I agree that meetings with faculty advisors should be a technicality unless you have very complicated scheduling requirements (like a double major). The only reason I met with my advisor was because the college gave them registration passwords for each student the first couple of years.

    Would it help to contact students ahead of time and ask (tell) them to prepare a tentative schedule, or have you tried that already? Knowing they need to think about it beforehand could reduce the number of Ida Knows you meet. Would also be easier to be hard-nosed about it later, since they are wasting your time by not preparing anything ("Have you thought about what courses you want/need to take? No? Why not?").

    1. We're a community college and supposed to engage in a lot of hand-holding. They have been told, in multiple ways, how to plan their schedule but many just don't do it. I'm convinced that many of today's students are being trained to be apathetic and helpless by the public school system and "helicopter" parents.

  2. I have attended a community college now for 2 years. By May, I will have 3 degrees. The third degree almost didn't happen for me because there was a conflict in courses. I tacked on the 3rd almost as an afterthought (my fault for being on the fence too long) and one of the courses I needed was supposed to have been a 1st year class. The head of the department informed me that since I was already going to graduate with 2 degrees, that I wasn't a big enough priority to enroll me into independent study to reach my goal. Mind you, I have held a 4.0 GPA for every semester I have taken. He also allowed another man to do this and explained that it was because this would be his only degree. How does trying to maximize my value go against me?? Just this past week, the matter was fixed because several other students also needed that class in their 2nd year, so yay me! Anyhow, that was completely off topic. I understand why there is hand holding, trying to maintain a retention rate to help the school's funding (or however it works), but I don't care for it much either, because if these kids who didn't care would just go away, then the ones who have a future in mind could receive the help they need to get where they're going!!