How Parents are Reshaping College

lead_960.jpgAfter Jonah got his acceptance letter to college, we thought we reached the parenting finish line. Woot! Victory lap! High fives! Margaritas for all!

And then I started talking to people. I was a little surprised about what I found out. So, I wrote an article.

Stacy G.’s daughter was having a meltdown. Her daughter, a sophomore at a prestigious private college, wanted an internship at Boston Children’s Hospital, a plum job that would look great on her applications to graduate school. After four weeks of frantically waiting for the school to arrange for an interview at the hospital, Stacy called her daughter’s adviser at the internships office to complain.

“For $65,000 [in full attendance costs], you can bet your sweet ass that I’m calling that school … If your children aren’t getting what they’ve been promised, colleges are going to get that phone call from parents,” Stacy said. “It’s my money. It’s a lot of money. We did try to have her handle it on her own, but when it didn’t work out, I called them.”

More here


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.

Turmoil on the College Campus (and elsewhere)

I’m pulling together research on the on-going protests on college campuses. I don’t have an article in the works yet. Just gathering info. I thought I would share some of the links here this afternoon without commentary.

Fox News reports on research from Brookings that found that most of the protests to date have happened at schools with a wealthier student body. “Since 2014, at the 90 or so colleges that have tried to disinvite conservatives from speaking, the average student comes from a family with an annual income $32,000 higher than that of the overall average student in America, the Brookings study found.”

In the Chronicle, Stanley Fish pushes back against the idea that a university is a place for free speech.

Freedom of speech is not an academic value. Accuracy of speech is an academic value; completeness of speech is an academic value; relevance of speech is an academic value. Each of these values is directly related to the goal of academic inquiry: getting a matter of fact right. The operative commonplace is “following the evidence wherever it leads.” You can’t do that if your sources are suspect or nonexistent; you can’t do that if you only consider evidence favorable to your biases; you can’t do that if your evidence is far afield and hasn’t been persuasively connected to the instant matter of fact.

Charles Murray continues to give campus talks. He was at Duke and Columbia this week. The faculty at Columbia released a statement.

The University of Chicago is creating a system for punishing students who violate their free speech policy.

The Chronicle has a great round-up of all the campus protests against conservative speakers, as well as the white supremacist garbage that’s also going on.

Another opinion in the Chronicle:

The desire to cleanse the campus of dissident voices has become something of a mission. Shaming, scapegoating, and periodic ritual exorcisms are a prime feature of campus life. A distinguished scholar at my own college writes in an open email letter to the faculty that when colleagues who are “different” (in his case, nonwhite, nonstraight, nonmale) speak to us we are compelled not merely to listen but to “validate their experiences.” When we meet at a faculty reception a week or so later and he asks what I think of his letter, I tell him I admire his willingness to share his thoughts but have been puzzling over the word “compelled” and the expression “validate their experiences.” Does he mean thereby to suggest that if we have doubts or misgivings about what a colleague has said to us, we should keep our mouths firmly shut? Exactly, replies my earnest, right-minded colleague.

A profile of FIRE.

Another shouting down of a speaker at McMasters College.

This is just two days of articles. I feel like things are heating up. And not just on the college campus. I went to a meeting for local Democratic women a few weeks ago. It was the first time I went to one of their events. It was standing room only. Lots of first timers there.



Free Speech On the College Campus

Thanks to everyone who participated in the discussion about the protests at Middlebury College. I’m quite certain that we’ll be revisiting this topic, because there is no consensus on this topic and there are very strong feelings out there.

I’m taking a seven day mental health break on this issue, but I’ll come back to it. I need time to digest some information and gather more facts.

(We’re in the middle of a blizzard here. The lights just flickered. Not sure how long I can keep this up. I planned on two more blog posts today, but not sure if it’s going to happen. )

The New College Protest


Last week, Charles Murray, a writer and scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank, was shouted off the stage before giving a presentation at Middlebury College, a small liberal-arts college in Middlebury, Vermont. After the talk was relocated to a different location, Murray, faculty, and staff from the college were physically assaulted by protesters. Allison Stanger, a member of the political-science department who conducted the Q&A with Murray, was hospitalized for injuries and diagnosed with a concussion.

Murray, who holds a Ph.D. in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is the author of The Bell Curve (1994), which finds correlations between intelligence and success, and Coming Apart (2012), which discusses the polarization of communities in the United States. His latest book, By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission, urges Americans to stem governmental overreach. Murray’s statements about race and intelligence, in particular, have garnered extensive criticism, though Murray has repeatedly denied that his views are racist, arguing that his ideas have been wildly mischaracterized.

More here.

What About the Farm Kids?

A while back, I was looking at college admission trends for the Atlantic. I learned that Columbia, for example, admitted more kids from China than the entire Midwest. I can’t remember if that finding made it through the editing process.

Well, the NYT wrote an article about the lack of representation of rural kids in colleges.

To college administrators, rural students, many of them the first in their families to attend college, have become the new underrepresented minority. In their aim to shape leaders and provide access to the disadvantaged, higher education experts have been recognizing that these students bring valuable experiences and viewpoints to campuses that don’t typically attract agriculture majors. Rural students, said Adam Sapp, admissions director at Pomona College, have “a different understanding of complicated political and social issues,” offering “one more lens through which to see a problem.”

College Tour at Thrifty U.

With the Hoboken train station out of commission, Steve left the house at 6:45 to begin his new two-hour-each-way commute to work. I got up with him like I always do, and then began the hour-long process of getting Jonah out of bed. The boys didn’t have school for the Jewish holidays, but he still had to get moving early. His cross country team was training on a course in the Bronx to prepare for this Saturday’s meet.

His team is pretty good. They might be two or three in the state this fall. Jonah might be among the top fifty runners in the state. We’ll see how things go. In the meantime, he’s training for two or three hours, seven days a week, 12 months a year. We pushed him to do track, so that he had an activity and would be too busy to get into trouble. He would have preferred to get a job at King’s along with his burner friends, but we thought that this was a better choice. So, we bought the $200 sneakers, nagged, and picked him up each day from the school. We hadn’t really banked on him being good, and this activity being such a time-suck.

Since yesterday was a rare day-off this fall, we had to squeeze in a school tour. So, I drove up to the Bronx, over the GW Bridge, and double parked outside of Van Cortland Park at a designated street corner. I do find it surprising that there are still some dirt roads in New York City.

At 10:00, I see him and a buddy racing up a hill at full speed. He knows that I’m anxious to get moving. So, he grabs his gym bag out of his coach’s car and bounds into our car. Sweat is dripping of his ear lobes.

“I need to change”, he said. “I’m gross. I’ve sweat through my underwear. I packed everything but underwear.”

So, we find a Target in White Plains. We buy a pack a boxers and he changes in the men’s room.

Then he needed to eat, so he powered through about $15 worth of carbs at a Barnes and Noble cafe. One hour later, we were finally ready to drive to Thrifty U. at its Earthy Crunchy Campus. Because my nerves were still jittery from the city driving, I turned the keys over to Jonah and got stuck sitting in his pool of sweat in the passenger seat. Ian popped in his earbuds and played video games in the backseat.

An hour and half later, we were too late to do the tour at Thrifty U., but we’ve done enough of these things to manage on our own. We walked into the shabby visitor center to get some maps. We hoped to sign our names on some registry to show that “we cared.” Caring matters for a lot of schools. It didn’t matter at Thrifty U.

Unlike other state colleges, there weren’t a whole lot of new building or fancy amenities. Most of the buildings were put up in the 70s and had about the worst student union that I’ve ever seen. But the tution is really great. It’s about the same as our in-state college, and about $15-25K cheaper than other flagship, out-of-state schools.

This particular branch of Thifty U used to have a pothead reputation. The nearby town still has that vibe with Deadhead posters and head shops. But I didn’t pick that up on the campus. The library was packed. The average high school GPA is a 3.6. It’s a serious school. They could be serious potheads, but that’s okay. As long as they’re working. Smart kids and good price — we like it.

After we walked around for an hour (14,000 steps), they told us that we could speak with an admission director. Okay.

We waited in a conference room for a minute and a 20-something woman met us. Shook our hands. Didn’t write down our names.

She asked Jonah what he was interested in. He told her plant biology, so she talked about their program. Lots of hands-on, field work, which sounded good. She bragged that their faculty were a teaching faculty and weren’t promoted for research – the first time that I’ve heard a brag about that. She said that classes were small. The biggest lectures were 100 kids. Most were under 30. All good things.

Jonah asked her about admission priorities. She said they mostly looked at the high school GPA. and then spent a long time discussing their formula for recalculating the GPA for their system. They didn’t care about SAT scores, cross country, essays, recommendations, and any of the other time consuming hurdles that he’s done in the past four years. Gun to the head.

After chatting for about ten minutes, Jonah turned to me and said, “are you going to ask the adjunct question?” I had almost forgotten. Whenever we go on a college tour, I ask about the percentile of adjuncts. So, I asked her, “What are your percentile of adjuncts?”

She said, “All of our professors have PhDs!”

I said, “I’m sure they do. But what percentage of them are adjuncts?”

She said, “We don’t use T.A.’s!”

I said, “That’s fine. But how about adjuncts?”

She said, “We have 400 full time faculty!”

I said, “That’s good. How about adjuncts?”

She said, “I don’t know. I’ll have to get back to you on that.”

I said, “OK. I just think that people should be properly paid for their work.”

She smiled. And that ended our tour of Thrifty U. A big “meh.”