The survey by York College's Center for Professional Excellence assigns colleges part of the blame, observing that letting students miss deadlines without penalty and assigning good grades for middling work only make them form the wrong expectations.
Yet it turns out professors don't coddle students and overlook youthful flaws.
Another survey by York College finds that professors think the same thing as employers do. It's the 2012 "Professionalism on Campus" survey, a questionnaire about juniors and seniors answered by 415 college and university faculty members.
Professors generally agreed that professionalism includes attentiveness, punctuality and a work ethic, and 37 percent think it has declined over the past five years, while only 12 percent see an improvement.
Even more than employers, fully 64 percent of professors observe an increase in a sense of entitlement in recent years, while only 5 percent say it has decreased. The students text-message during class, send e-mails to teachers with grammar and spelling errors, and act "unfocused."
(For the "unfocused" part, the researchers said they started hearing comments a few years ago from employers about workers lacking "focus," so they included a direct item in the questionnaire on it.)
Faculty members identify parents as the main cause, though American culture in general and grade inflation in high school also receive blame.
Let's agree that everyone is at fault, more or less. The burden falls heaviest on the workplace.
High school teachers have few direct incentives to toughen up their classrooms. The steady drag of uninterested students and school bureaucracy beats them down to the point where using higher grades and lax discipline are the easiest ways to make it through the week.
College professors, too, have no direct incentive to raise the bar on behavior, given the influence of student ratings of their performance and pressure from administrators and parents.
Most of all, poor behavior by students doesn't immediately threaten the livelihood of teachers.
A bad worker, however, jeopardizes a whole unit's productivity, and a manager can't simply pass a low performer to the next level.
Teachers who allow delinquent students to slide merely compromise their own integrity. Dereliction in the workplace puts profits at risk.
This, then, is the real transition into adulthood in the U.S. today - not graduating from high school, leaving home or learning how to succeed in college, but performing full-time work for bosses who can't compromise, and all too often must say:
"Your work isn't up to par, you're not as great as you think, and if you don't improve, you're fired."
As employers and government officials put more pressure on colleges to produce employable graduates, this message should reach students before they collect their diplomas.
Bauerlein is a professor of English at Emory University and the author of "The Dumbest Generation." His email address is en...@emory.edu.