Published on 2012/05/11

When Are Student Services Professionals Being Too Coddling?

Student Services Professionals can be too coddling to their adult students in the name of retention, but they must remember that they are preparing graduates for the work world—both intellectually and culturally. Photo by Steven DePolo.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the point where student services professionals become too coddling to their adult students. I recently went through a situation in which I believed a student was being overly pampered (coddled), especially in light of the student’s behavior. This student is well known for her demanding-controlling behavior in class. Many instructors have stated the she does not like to be told how or what to do.  This scenario is not unusual at my organization and those students who are difficult in class more often than not end up going to externship sites with attitudes that get them fired – organizations do not want to work with or hire controlling, disrespectful people.

Thinking about this question, other incidents of similar nature and circumstance I have witnessed in my years as a Student Services professional my answer to the question at hand would be yes but there are two distinct reasons that we over-coddle our adult students which we need to explore:

First, there are times when organizations expect the practice of coddling from their Student Services professionals as well as all their employees at all costs, even toward students who are being disruptive in class—making derogatory comments about and to instructors and staff and acting unprofessional and misrepresenting themselves and the school at an externship or clinical site—in order to retain these students.

This edict to mollycoddle students is, in my opinion, to the students’ detriment and a dereliction of the HEI’s duty to not only educate but mold the students into the type of professionals organizations will hire. As well, because of the motivation behind the organization’s coddling expectation, it causes many to question the for-profit schools practices and perpetuates the idea that for-profits do this in order to retain their students; motivated by greed, profits and reaching accreditation requirements of retention.

The second type of coddling that SSA professionals’, staff and administration do in general tends to occur due to a natural inclination to champion the “underdog”.  To be fair, many of the HEI administrations’ practice to coddle students is based upon the common knowledge that many for-profit or adult-learning students are disenfranchised; they come from very difficult circumstances that have left them with low self-esteem at best and bitter at worst. These students tend to exhibit “entitlement” attitudes as a result of their life experience so some coddling is necessary to gently move them into thinking in a manner expected of a professional. Administration sees this as expecting staff and faculty to model the professional behavior rather than simply admonishing the students to behave in a manner in which they are not accustomed.

For Example: Student Services Advisors and faculty of for-profit or adult-learning HEI’s hear many sad stories about difficult and trying life circumstances every day from their students. These stories cause staff to find it very difficult to turn a student away and not give him/her the help or sympathy for which they are asking. Student Services Advisors especially, meet with students on a regular basis about their situations and as they get to know them they become not only professionally but personally (familial manner) invested in the student. I don’t think this kind of “coddling” is necessarily bad or should be interpreted as “too much” unless it leads to the following:

  1. Staff gives their home numbers to students and instruct them to call them anytime 24/7 for counseling or assistance on homework.
  2. SSA’s who give of their own resources over and over: money for gas, rides to and from school, clothing, food, etc. These scenarios have been known to occur at most for-profit and adult-learning HEI’s.

Conversely, there are times when for-profit HEI’s go in a totally opposite direction of coddling. For example, let me relay a story that was told to me recently. We had a current student whose mother passed away a month ago and then her three year old son pass away two weeks ago. She was not in a good financial situation to afford the funeral let alone a casket and travel costs for herself and her sons body, as most of her family lived in Kentucky and upon her graduation she planned to move there so she chose to bury her son there.

Our organization would not consent to help her without a commitment from her that she would return to school for the next quarter (not even by doing a fundraiser). It is my opinion that it should not have mattered what her plans for school were, especially at this time of what I am sure was overwhelming sorrow.  Sometimes, we need to understand as an organization that it is the relationship with these students that is most important; sometimes their personal needs should be our first consideration.

In conclusion, sometimes Student Services Advisors and staff of HEI’s do coddle their students too much. They coddle students too much when they get personally invested but more often when they are expected to do it by the requirement of the organization for which they work. Each can be just as bad or beneficial depending on the scale to which coddling is expected and practiced.

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Readers Comments

Howard Solomon 2012/05/13 at 7:22 pm

Ms Stabler,
You definitely raise issues about who coddles students and to what purpose. What you didn’t do, though, is lay down a line in the sand about when there has been too much coddling. I have recently left the employ of a for-profit where I spent a considerable effort to move the faculty and the faculty policy to a line that looks simply at the learning. Courses are there to generate learning. Faculty are there to facilitate learning. Throughout the student’s experience of learning events, you will achieve the maximum impact for the student if you recognize that it is the learning that is at the heart of every difficult decision in a learning institution.
The business model of the organization makes no difference. The faculty member is a representative of a field of study who is trusted to recognize whether enough learning has taken place for the student to qualify the student for the next level. You are quite correct that giving away a passing grade for a student’s ability to whine and protest is counterproductive for the student, the school, and the field of study. On the other hand, giving a student an opportunity to submit the assignment beyond a deadline in extenuating circumstances and thus avoid a retake of a course when the student has learned what was expected, avoids wasted effort and resentment, and is a winning approach for the student, the school, and the field.
So here’s the missing line in the sand: If the student learned what was needed to demonstrate mastery of what the class teaches, it isn’t coddling, it’s doing the best for all concerned.

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