5 Days, 5 Colleges, 5 States (Part 2)

After our detour into the subculture of People Who Live On Boats, we braced ourselves for a rigorous schedule of tours, hotels, and states. The plan had been meticulously arranged weeks ago with hotel reservations, driving plans, and college reservations. An itinerary was typed out with scribbled tips in the margins about restaurants and bars from friends. (Thanks all!)

By limiting this search to the big public schools in nearby states — URI, UConn, UMass, UNH, and UVM — we compared apples to apples. And since both Steve and I attended similar public colleges as undergraduates and both taught at public colleges, we thought we could add our own apples to the comparison. Well, our apples didn’t count – either the apples were from too long ago or weren’t from flagship public colleges. We were rather shocked at what we found.

Even URI with its sagging window air conditioners in the administration building, was a damn sight more impressive than we expected. All of the schools were in the midst of major construction projects. There were cranes and tractors and scaffolding everywhere. New dorms at UVM! New science building at URI! New everything at UConn!

Ian, who was an absolute champ on these two hours tours in the 95 degree heat, observed that these schools were cities. And he was right. Weird, little cities of young, beautiful people. No old, no babies, no sick, no disabled. Just 30,000 cheerful, clean-cut, middle class kids with endless enthusiasm for sustainable water bottles and semesters abroad. They were identical even if they were of different races.

And like real cities, these universities provide services for their citizens, but way beyond the range of what any real city does. It’s a real city on hormones, cocaine, and a pack of unfiltered Camels. The tour guides explained that their schools provide everything from parking spaces to free laundry to counseling to tutoring to 24 hours of food to career counseling.  Oh and they also teach the kids stuff, too.

So, if you figure that these universities manage nearly 50,000 students and staff, it’s rather a remarkable administrative feat. They work with an efficiency of Disney Land.

We didn’t see the rockwalls or the lazy rivers that I’ve heard tell about, but we did see very impressive exercise buildings with hundreds of treadmills. One tour guide gave us the list of all the free exercise classes — yoga, bro-ga for the guys, strength training, and dance. There were intramurals, club sports, varsity. UConn had national basketball champs. UVM had an enormous ski club with free lift tickets at the nearby mountains.

Jonah was probably most impressed with UConn and UVM for both real and superficial reasons. He just fell in love with the campuses. UConn was spotless. We watched a video about UVM in its brand new visitor center with exposed pine wood rafters in Adirondack style. The campus in on a green hill overlooking Lake Champlain and the town of Burlington. We wanted him to look past the buildings and get at the substance, but it was tough. UVM was extremely beautiful.

The kid loves plants, and we saw impressive fields and greenhouses at those schools. The tour guides at UConn and UVM just happened to know about that stuff and talked about it a lot on the tours. But he also likes architecture and German. All the schools were big enough, so he could take a range of classes his freshman year until he was ready to narrow down.

We made a point, just to be annoying, to ask the tour guides at all five schools about the percentage of adjunct professors there. (None knew that answer.)

I asked one of the tour guides who have all blended together in my head into one perky composite face what were the most commonly asked questions on the tours. She said, it was about parking and food.

The price for these schools as an out-of-state student is frightening — $40K to $55K. We’ve got the NJ state college tours coming up later in August, but even in-state here is expensive. It’s $30K. But after seeing these schools, I can see why parents go into so much debt to send their kids to these places. They were wonderful. I wanted to go back to college. I’ve always liked colleges. That’s why I ended up in grad school until I was 34. With all these opportunities, both Steve and I were drooling. We wanted it, too. We bellied up to the Kool-Aid bar and drank deeply.

One perk that was common to all these schools? Puppy petting hours. That is a bit weird.

(More tomorrow)

11 thoughts on “5 Days, 5 Colleges, 5 States (Part 2)

  1. I can’t believe you go on these tours, much less take Ian. We’re doing some tours later this month and I’m hoping S forbids me to go.

    Falling in love with a campus is normal. You can just see yourself there for 4 years. It’s not really about the fancy things, either. It’s kind of a visceral thing, love at first sight.

  2. It looks like UMass came last or next to last, right?🙂 I had a good time there in grad school. It wasn’t as “fancy” back then! They have mostly lecturers & senior lecturers there, I hear. Well paid because unionized. The grad student union there was SUPER strong. We joined the UAW when we were there. Full health insurance and then later, dental too. It’s not a super pretty campus, though…

  3. 1. Yay, Ian! This should help a lot when it’s his turn.

    2. “And like real cities, these universities provide services for their citizens, but way beyond the range of what any real city does.” I always say it’s like living under communism. Not real 20th century communism, but 19th century dreamer communism.

    3. “We didn’t see the rockwalls or the lazy rivers that I’ve heard tell about, but we did see very impressive exercise buildings with hundreds of treadmills.”

    Our family is very fond of our local rock wall. For a fee, it’s often possible for a non-campus person to enjoy campus amenities–which is worthwhile for something like a large climbing wall.

    4. Our college gym also does a belly dancing class as part of the fitness program from time to time…

    5. “UVM had an enormous ski club with free lift tickets at the nearby mountains.” I’ve probably mentioned that I have TWO different younger WA relatives who went to college in CO for the skiing.

    6. “The price for these schools as an out-of-state student is frightening — $40K to $55K.”

    OH MY GOODNESS!

    7. “I can see why parents go into so much debt to send their kids to these places. They were wonderful. I wanted to go back to college.”

    Now that I’ve been around colleges for so many years, I’m pretty sure I missed out on a lot of the non-academics that my private school offered. No harm done, but I hope to make sure that my kids get a lot out of their college gyms and outdoor programs (maybe even study abroad?). There are so many opportunities on campus that just aren’t available or affordable after graduation, and graduate students are too busy to enjoy them.

    8. “One perk that was common to all these schools? Puppy petting hours. That is a bit weird.”

    Not if you’re familiar with undergraduates as pet owners. I’d provide puppy petting hours, too, if it would keep college students from getting and neglecting animals and trashing their neighborhoods.

  4. I felt that way when we visited colleges too: I wanted to enroll myself. (Although, in real life, I didn’t like it much at the time, and today I find 18 to 22 year olds very boring.) But hey, green fields, huge libraries, attractive (even if boring) young people–what’s not to like?

  5. There is just so much to do at a large state university; you cannot possibly do it all. It’s like trying to watch all the channels in your cable package, for those of you who still have cable. I was someone who tried to do it all: campus radio station; campus magazine; study abroad; intramural Ultimate; student government; job at local restaurant. I ended up being not a very good student, at least from the quantifiable standpoint of GPA. (And I was not even in a fraternity.) It could be argued, however, that my collective experiences gave me a good skill set that I put to good use in grad school. So I say “bring on the activities.” You never know where you are going to have that experience that launches you to success.

  6. I’m just remembering that a friend’s son was *very* impressed by U. Maryland. He is going to Princeton, and his final decision was between Princeton and MIT, so Maryland impressing him seems like a big deal to me. He’s going into engineering, fwiw.

  7. I think this school tour thing is seductive, marketing that you think you could resist, but in fact, most people can’t. I remember thinking that after touring kindergartens. In our town, at the time, even those going to public schools toured, because there was a choice system in place that did not guarantee attendance at any school, so you had to rank order, or at least we all thought so. If you are touring, you might as well tour private schools, too, right? And, the private schools go out all out to sell themselves (while the most popular public schools don’t, because, after all they get enough students anyway). So the tours are always better (even if some of the facilities aren’t — public funding provides a lot of amenities).

    So then, you find yourself accepting that the 25-30-40K is a reasonable price to pay for giving your child the “best fit”. At least you can’t go into non-dischargeable debt in order to finance K.

    It’s like looking at cars or houses, without thinking about the price, ’cause, “what does it hurt to see what’s out there?” Well, often, the 2M dollar house is just better than the 1M house.

    Enjoying hearing about the adventures, especially the road trip tie in.

    1. bj said:

      “So then, you find yourself accepting that the 25-30-40K is a reasonable price to pay for giving your child the “best fit”. At least you can’t go into non-dischargeable debt in order to finance K.”

      I kind of did that with preschool. I toured a $10k a year preschool in Georgetown about 11 years ago, and it was AMAZING. I was definitely seduced–and it didn’t sound as crazy at the time as it does now. My husband was not seduced, however (he hadn’t seen the Reggio Emilia light tables!), so Big Girl wound up going to the $120 a month city preschool co-op instead.

      We all survived (although the two kids did get rotavirus from the co-op and had to be on IV fluids).

  8. Your comment about tour guides not knowing the % of adjunct faculty made me realize I didn’t know, either. At UVM it’s 26% (not sure how that’s spread across colleges. Our intro writing program is unusual in that we have very few grad students teaching comp; most sections of that are taught by full-time faculty, although some by the RAs).

  9. One of the very big states of origin for students at James Madison, in Harrisonburg VA, is New Jersey. Lot of kids with whom my kid became friends in the dorm. Just saying.

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