Although students sometimes show up to class in sweatpants, Georgetown faculty generally disagreed with the results of a recent survey that characterized college students as unprofessional.
The report, released by the Center for Professional Excellence at York College in January 2013, found that approximately one-third of surveyed professors believed that less than 50 percent of their students had qualities associated with being professional in the workplace.
According to the report, professors defined professionalism as necessitating interpersonal skills, a strong work ethic, focus and dependability. The study also added several indicators for professionalism, including accepting responsibility for actions, being prepared and demonstrating good reading and writing skills. On a scale from one to five, with five meaning that the quality was very prevalent among students, the mean score that professors gave for such indicators was slightly under three.
School of Foreign Service Dean Carol Lancaster defined professionalism in a similar manner.
“You need to be good writer — preferably an articulate speaker — you need to be able to make decisions on priorities, [and] you need to communicate your ideas without offending others,” Lancaster said. “I think all of those things … students pick up in the classroom.”
The report stated that professors think that student professionalism has decreased in recent years, noting an increasing sense of entitlement as a major cause.
Some Georgetown faculty members, however, disagreed with the findings.
“I think our students do leave here with the skills to be professional in the workspace, and they acquit themselves pretty well in the workplace,” Georgetown College Dean Chester Gillis said.
Lancaster noted that in her time at Georgetown, students have increasingly been willing to articulate opinions and have improved in writing abilities.
“I don’t see students as being less professional,” Lancaster said. “I feel they are more prepared than they have ever been. Students often come in here as adolescents and leave here as young men and women.”
Nevertheless, there are areas where faculty said Georgetown students show a lack of professionalism, such as the use of technology in the classroom. The York study cited technological etiquette as especially lacking among undergraduates today.
In particular, Gillis lamented students’ tendency to check Facebook during class.
“That’s unacceptable in my view,” Gillis said.
Faculty members also admitted to seeing the sense of entitlement mentioned in the survey present in the Georgetown student body.
“Our culture condones, ‘Everybody gets a trophy.’ … That’s not the way it is in real life,” Gillis said. “Even in a fine institution like Georgetown, it’s not all teeth of a comb. Everybody is not identical, and they do not perform identically.”
According to Gillis, students’ willingness to return late from spring and Easter breaks reflects this sense of entitlement.
“It’s not alright. It’s not acceptable,” Gillis said. “In the professional world, you won’t do that.”
Psychology professor Steven Sabat attributed this sense of entitlement to the pressure put on students to achieve good grades.
“I think a lot of people here are beyond reason intense about things like grades. Grades are the most important thing, and they have less fun learning because of that,” Sabat said. “It’s almost as if they have gotten into this habit of worrying.”
However, Sabat and other faculty members said that the sense of entitlement is only present in a small portion of the student body.
“I don’t think most people are like, ‘Here I am; give me an A,’” Sabat said.
Patricia Cloonan, chair of the health systems administration department in the School of Nursing & Health Studies, said that the majority of Georgetown students seem to be grateful to be at the university, adding that Georgetown’s location offers students an introduction to professionalism early on.
“We hear from our students that one of the reasons they came to Georgetown was to be in the nation’s capital with its many possibilities for personal and professional growth,” Cloonan said. “That motivation makes our students aware of life after Georgetown and really opens the door for faculty mentorship when it comes to professional development.”
Gillis agreed, adding that student involvement in internships encourages professionalism. CawleyCareer Center Executive Director Mike Schaub noted that this attitude at school and internships transfers to workplace behavior.
“Employers generally have very positive things to say about students’ level of professionalism and preparedness in the workplace,” Schaub wrote in an email. “Most of our graduating seniors experienced different work environments through their professional internships, and these work experiences prepare our students well for employment after graduation.”