More On Our Flagship College

The boys had spring break last week. Steve took the week off, too. With three extra people knocking around the house, there was no need to even pretend that I would get work done. Even if I wanted to work, it’s impossible to have that tomb-like quiet I need to concentrate. So, we did lots of stuff instead.

First up was Jonah’s Accepted Student Day at our flagship state college. Jonah had been “meh” about attending this school. When we went for the tour last fall, it looked shabby. An old dean showed us power point slides about the school and got into the weeds about class requirements. She was wearing a sun dress with her bra straps showing. The other colleges gave us tours of the grassy campuses led by perky, preppy tour guides who made lame jokes about walking backwards. Jonah really dug those perky kids and their lame jokes.

But we made a chart of his eleven colleges and ordered it by rankings. We had a column for total cost of attendance and another column for merit aid. The chart was adhered to the fridge with a big magnet. When we were all done filling in the info, the choice was a no-brainer.

As he got used to the idea and talked to more people about the school, he started feeling better. The word about the school is that everybody gets jobs as soon as they graduate. And over and over we kept hearing, “Internships! The school has a ton of internships!”

That weekend, we sent Ian away to a sleepaway weekend camp for kids with Aspergers. We thought it would be a nice treat for him, and it would give us the chance to totally focus on Jonah. Turns out it was a bit of disaster, since the camp also took kids who had bigger issues, and Ian was freaked out by them. Sigh. But at least we had some quality time with the big kid, because there were actually some big decisions to make.

Jonah got into three difference schools at the flagship college – the environmental school, the arts and sciences program, and the engineering school – and we had to pick one. Each school was running sessions on their offerings. There were discussions on the different majors. There were tours of the dorms. The dining halls were open to everyone.

And it was all spread over the five different campuses within that one college. This is the physically largest college that I’ve ever seen. It can take thirty minutes to get from one class to another, if you catch the bus at just the right time. Class selection has to take into account that major commute time. Not every kid can manage this college. It’s overwhelming even for a college pro like myself.

He’s thinking about majoring in bio-engineering, so we went to a presentation on it. He could major in that at two different schools within the college. One takes four years, the other is a five year program. Good thing we went to the presentation and figured that out.

The woman who gave the bio-engineering presentation was smart and helpful. I whispered to Jonah that he should go talk to her when he has questions next fall. Afterwards, she asked if anybody had questions. Hands shot up. All parents’ hands. One guy with a thick Jersey accent asked if his daughter would get a masters with the five year program (no, but two BAs), what was the typical salary for a graduate with this degree (shrug), and what jobs were available for people with this major (cleaning up New Jersey’s superfund sites). His questions and questions from other parents were tightly focused on jobs and money and time spent at college. The other presentations we attended that day hammered on the internship opportunities and job prospects over and over.

I was rather surprised by A. the high parental involvement in their kids’ college decisions and B. by the job training mission of the college. Neither are bad things, but clearly a major shift in college life.

In the end, Jonah decided on the arts and sciences school, because it will give him some flexibility. We walked out the bookstore with all sorts of branded t-shirts and stickers and caps. The school definitely does have some eyesores (hello, ugly dorms!), but it also has the green fields, greenhouses, and new lecture halls that he wants so badly. He hasn’t taken off his branded baseball cap since that weekend.

He’s all in.

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32 thoughts on “More On Our Flagship College

  1. Yay! I support the choice of Arts & Sciences. 🙂 He can still take advantage of the internship opportunities but he’ll be able to explore big ideas and stuff. Don’t underestimate how important/cool that is.

  2. The other colleges gave us tours of the grassy campuses led by perky, preppy tour guides who made lame jokes about walking backwards.

    Except for the grassy campus, that’s a Pitt visit. I always worry about them getting hit by a car because they have to cross some pretty serious traffic while walking backward.

  3. Really glad to hear he’s gotten enthusiastic about this. The student services/recruitment people are stepping up to the plate! These welcome weekends are incredibly important. (Possible story idea?)

    1. Oh, I got three different story ideas from that weekend. I’m working on one right now for the Atlantic, along with a technology article for another website. I want to see if I can start churning out two articles per week.

      My atlantic article is about parental involvement in their kids’ college lives. I’m hearing stories about moms who cook their kids a week’s worth of meals, drive three hours to the college, put the food in the dorm fridge, and then drive back home. CLICK BAIT ALERT!

      1. “I’m hearing stories about moms who cook their kids a week’s worth of meals, drive three hours to the college, put the food in the dorm fridge, and then drive back home.”

        Don’t forget the commercial laundry services!

        https://dormmom.com/

      2. Sounds like Italy. I know of a mom that would cook a week’s worth of pasta sauce and mail it across the country.

      3. My mom would mail me food across the country. I also had a index card up in my room with a list of foods I could eat, which included “recipes” like “hot dogs: hot dogs, hot dog buns, ketchup”. People use to giggle at that index card. And, I was on a meal plan (We didn’t have meals on weekends, though. That’s what the index cards were for).

      4. My first workplace had a charity fundraiser cookbook and we were all asked to contribute recipes. My tuna sandwich recipe was both deliberately intended for laughs and less obvious than that.

      5. bj

        Did you have certain dietary restrictions? Also, did you need those recipes, or was your mom just that much of a micromanager?

      6. No, mostly I was a hothouse flower with respect to food, picky, and, prone to not thinking about food until I was starving, the kind of person who forgets to eat (I still do that).

  4. Well, with all our getting, let’s get understanding. I agree that the world has changed, but why? (Other than Sauron’s reawakening.) Why is there more parental involvement? Smaller families? Possibly, but why are the families smaller? If it’s because children are more expensive, isn’t that kind of circular? They are more expensive because of the higher parental involvement. Another explanation is increased economic insecurity. I’m skeptical of that one, because (i) it runs counter to the other popular meme about decreased economic mobility and (ii) I have never read an article containing a persuasive diachronic comparison of economic mobility levels.

    Job focus I think is primarily a product of the vast increase in college costs. Once upon a time, college would be the fourth largest cost in most people’s lives (after house, car, funeral); now it’s second and maybe first for some people. With that kind of money, you can’t treat it is a modest item of luxury consumption, like a vacation: it has to be right.

    1. ” I agree that the world has changed, but why? (Other than Sauron’s reawakening.) Why is there more parental involvement? Smaller families? Possibly, but why are the families smaller? If it’s because children are more expensive, isn’t that kind of circular? They are more expensive because of the higher parental involvement. Another explanation is increased economic insecurity. I’m skeptical of that one, because (i) it runs counter to the other popular meme about decreased economic mobility and (ii) I have never read an article containing a persuasive diachronic comparison of economic mobility levels.”

      There’s less of a middle middle class than there used to be, and both a larger upper middle class and a larger lower middle class:

      https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-hollowing-of-the-middle-class/2016/01/03/167309ea-afdc-11e5-9ab0-884d1cc4b33e_story.html?utm_term=.860ef0afd4f8

      So, failing to achieve an upper middle class income is a bigger problem than it used to be–the middle is a smaller, harder-to-hit target.

      Also, in higher-cost parts of the US, a child who can’t economically hack it is likely to leave for greener (and cheaper) pastures, which means no local grandbabies.

      Or, alternately, an adult child who can’t hack wherever they are may wind up a permanent economic burden on their parents.

      “Job focus I think is primarily a product of the vast increase in college costs. Once upon a time, college would be the fourth largest cost in most people’s lives (after house, car, funeral); now it’s second and maybe first for some people. With that kind of money, you can’t treat it is a modest item of luxury consumption, like a vacation: it has to be right.”

      Right.

      It can’t be 100% an aimless journey of self-exploration if it requires that much sacrifice on the part of most families.

    2. I agree. Cost is the biggest factor in explaining parental involvement. And mistakes that cause transferring and extended time in college are super expensive. But parents are nervous about their kids’ job prospects, too, even if it is irrational. Those stories about twenty somethings living in their parents’ basements are a HUGE fear.

      1. My dad told us all that we could never come home for more than a summer after we left for college. Or possibly just my brother and I, not my sisters. I never asked.

      2. I’d like to know more about the parent basement phenomenon. It seems to me that absent serious issues (illness, addiction, mental health, disability), you could just tell them to leave. I’m guessing that some of the stats are parents who don’t kick the kid out because they are hoping that the help will pay longer term dividends (i.e. they will get a better job, save for the downpayment for a house, save first/last month’s rent, pay down student debt, . . .), and that they aren’t willing to throw their kid to the wilds of living the scraping by lifestyle, and they have the space. Or that the kid would move away, to Colorado, if you didn’t give them the free rent at home.

        I see a fair amount of parent complicity, that starts with the hypervigilant parenting.

        I have been closely watching the launching of two twenty-somethings recently. One just recently moved to his own apartment (after, yes, living in his parents basement during college, and for a while after graduation, but with a job); the other will live at home while a masters is completed. Both are on the way to adulthood, though living in a parents basement was part of the transition.

      3. MH, I kinda did the same to my kids. I told them they were welcome to go live with their dad if they couldn’t find a job after college.

    3. Higher investment == smaller families (the circular argument) is part of the equation, but so is access to birth control and other opportunities for women. And, then, smaller families means more investment and attention.

      I do believe that increased investment by the educated classes is the result of economic insecurity in an increasingly tournament model economy (which, in turn, is fueled by governmental choices, but also the flattening and globalization of the world). The circle of competition keeps getting bigger.

      I’m not sure about what i think about college costs — was there really a day in which college costs were lower than funerals? And if so, were there really people for whom the cost of a funeral was a struggle who were sending their children to college?

      I don’t know those answers because I think that when we make comparisons to past times, much depends on which eras are being compared. Though I think economic security has increased since the 50s, among the college-educated professional class, I suspect comparisons with eras before that would yield very different conclusions. I also don’t know how economic insecurity has increased among different subsections of the income/ses spectrum (say, the poor, and the middle class).

  5. “I was rather surprised by A. the high parental involvement in their kids’ college decisions…”
    Aren’t you heavily involved in Jonah’s college decision?

    1. Yes, we were super involved in helping him chose a school and in making sure that he met his deadlines, but I had sort of envisioned that our parenting would end when the accpetance letter came. I thought it was the parenting finish line. Not. College is very complicated, especially in larger public colleges. Navigating the bureaucracy is tricky. What do you do when your roommate is a drug dealer? Who should you talk to get a new roommate? What’s a practical course load for your first year? Where do you go to fill out a work-study application? Should you double major in German and engineering, if it means another year of college? Parents are helping their kids work through those questions, I’m learning.

      1. Yes, the acceptance letter was not the end of the parental involvement for us. Our kids went far — one to LA and one to Philadelphia (we’re in MN). They needed different kinds of help along the way: one wanted proofreading of essays, the other didn’t know how to write an essay (and had placed way above his head via AP Lit). Each one had enough of a crisis that they wanted me to come for a weekend, but at very different stages and for different reasons. Still, I’m glad I could travel easily. One didn’t come back after grad school, they other is moving into the basement next month. So I have no answers. Just that parenting doesn’t end so much as I seem to remember when I was the kid.

      2. “Just that parenting doesn’t end so much as I seem to remember when I was the kid.”

        I’m guessing our parents might have a different perspective on “parenting ending.” We should ask them. My parents watch my kids (and lived next door to me through my 40’s). I also get deliveries of food on a regular basis. They are driving my kids home tonight. They haven’t given us money, and I haven’t lived at home since I left at 17, but my parents have given lots of time.

      3. “Just that parenting doesn’t end so much as I seem to remember when I was the kid.”

        I am still getting very nice advice and reminiscing from my mom, who is a 1922. Not a whole lot of ’22s on the road, these days. But it’s not over yet!

  6. I also wonder how much of the panic, especially the irrational kind, is fueled by the rapid spread of information across communities that are not all the same. Say, Laura is in the NE hothouse and there’s a NY hothouse. But, there are lots of other places. I am also in a hothouse, but I can’t believe that it is the same everywhere.

    The other day I read an article about someone reading their iphone in bed, plugged into the charger, and falling asleep, and having the phone charger short out on his metal necklace, causing burns. And, I panicked about chargers. In another world, wouldn’t I not have known about that (which was click bait from the Washington Post).

  7. I have a kid in the proverbial basement. And, well, yes, we’re complicit in that, but it’s not exactly easy to figure out what to do when college doesn’t work out, and when jobs don’t work out. And when your kid has some pretty serious mental health issues. Do you kick them out and they become homeless? Do you give them starter money? Do you make phone calls lining up employment but not know if your kid will follow through? There’s no roadmap.

    My other kid is Jonah’s age, has settled on a small liberal arts college on the west coast so will be far from home. We didn’t do a lot different. They’re different kids.

    1. I think you don’t kick them out. I’ve got a relation whose spectrum kid has just landed a job as a delivery route driver after three years at Panera, and whose boss is thinking carefully about how to make this work as a long term thing. Only map I can think of is patience, and trying hard to think what can work for someone with his/her particular strengths and weaknesses, and where that maybe can be found.
      Friend of mine was a lawyer with a niche practice of setting up ongoing care situations for adult children with issues and whose parents were aging and wanted to ensure that they would not end up on the pavement. It’s God’s work, what she was doing.

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