The Plague is Here, Part Eight – The Jonah Edition

So, who is the happiest person on the planet because his college got cancelled in the middle of midterms? Well, that would be Jonah.

Got toilet paper! Score!

And he’s very proud of his Corona baseball cap with a built-in bottle opener.

Yeah, dude, black humor. I get it. You’re still not going to Alaska on Spring Break.

DIY College

This is the first day in over a month, when I’m the only person in the house. No in-laws, husband, teen, or a college kid needing three meals a day. It takes a big block of time to get serious work done. An hour here and there don’t add up to many words. I’m relishing this moment and making plans for myself for this spring.

My chore chart isn’t completely clean. We have to start the paperwork to assume guardianship of Ian. I have to sign him up for ACT and SAT testing. We need some repairs on the exterior of the house. I already got one quote and am having heart failure about that number. I also am helping Jonah out with some college stuff.

When we sent Jonah off to college two and half years ago, Steve and I thought we were done with parenting. We assumed his college experience was going to be like ours. Our parents hauled our stuff to the college and then really had nothing to do with us until Christmas break. They checked in every three days, but that was about it.

Yeah, that was an error. Jonah ended up needing a lot more help, because the college was massive with so little oversight over the kids that he got a bit lost that first semester. So, we readjusted our approach to him and now we’re more hands on.

Just for an example, let’s talk about housing. His college doesn’t have enough dorms for all its students. In his freshman year, he lived in dorms that hadn’t been renovated in decades. There was no air conditioning, so he couldn’t sleep for two weeks during a late fall heatwave. So, like most sophomores he moved to an off-campus slum.

This slum creates all sorts of hassles for Jonah. Jonah got stuck being the guy who was responsible for the electricity and internet bills. He had to shake down the other five roommates every month to pay the bills. Time suck. They had a guy who somehow ended up living on their sofa all last year without paying rent. This year, they made him take an official room, when someone moved out, but the sofa kid stopping paying rent. So, the landlord made them evict him yesterday. Meetings, phone calls, time suck.

The toilet broke last year. The kids had to jiggle the handle to make the water stop running. They told the landlord, and he did nothing. Then they went away for the summer. The last kid who used the toilet didn’t jiggle the handle, so the water ran in the toilet all summer. The landlord wants them to pay the $2,000 water bill. They’re fighting it. Time suck.

As un upperclassman, he has a chance of getting a good number in the school lottery to get better housing next year. It’s a great building with A/C, wifi, study lounges, and exercise room, but the guys that he was going to live with can’t afford the 10K per year cost, so they want to find another slum. Looking at housing = time suck.

Housing is such an issue at his school that private developers have stepped in to build dorms around the college. A new place is opening in the fall, but it’s going cost too much for his frugal friends.

I spent some time looking at this private dorm. (Here it is.) I was kinda surprised that colleges were working with private developers to make their dorms for them now. It’s a pain for the students, because it’s a full year lease, and students don’t have any support from the school, if one of their roommates flakes out. If Jonah does the spring semester abroad, then he’ll have to find a replacement for himself. (Time suck.)

I guess these private developer-college arrangements are more common. My cousin’s kid in Floria lives in one of those dorms. I might spend the morning asking around about them.

The other big Jonah job for the week is help him with a summer internship. More on that later.

The Slacker Boys of Generation Z

The 20-something writers who cover education on the national stage might have more time and energy than this old girl, but I have a few tools in my arsenal as well. My greatest advantage is that I don’t see the school beat as a stepping stone onto other topics. I like schools and have studied them for years, so I’m not putting tons of energy into learning about health care or the military. Schools get all my brain power.

Another advantage that I have is that I’m a parent. There’s nothing like experiencing a situation first hand to give one a good spidey sense about whether a topic is going to be hot or whether a new report is totally off base.

I’m not just a parent. I’m an active parent, who participates in school functions and parent organizations, and regular attends school board meetings. I’m also hopelessly social, so I regularly talk to other parents about their kids. All these experience provide article and blog fodder.

Over the past holidays, I bounced around various cocktail parties and learned some good stuff. One parent of a college-aged boy told me that she was disappointed with her son’s efforts in school. She said that he has been talking more and more about looking at alternatives to college. He and his friends have discussed the fact that they aren’t interested in following in their parents’ footsteps of BAs from prestigious colleges and good paying jobs that put them into suburbs like this one. They want a more laid-back life style.

She mentioned a kid — a son of a friend of a friend type of thing — who was a surfer in California living out of his car. His parents would have paid the rent for an apartment, but the kid (anybody under 25 is still a kid to me) preferred to live a simple life out of his car. He didn’t see the point in paying someone rent for a place that he didn’t need.

She wondered if kids today were rejecting our modern suburban lifestyles. Was this a return to the Gen X slacker days? Was it happening because there’s just so much stress and anxiety in their culture today? Were they going to move to more laid-back areas of the country, because the cost of living is so high around here.

Her question didn’t seem way off, since lots of other people are clearly avoiding are area. New York State is losing population is such numbers, that they might lose Congressional house seats.

Or maybe it’s a boy thing. I was chatting with people on Twitter this morning about an article that said that boys are alienated from schools today. Now that I finished my marching band article (coming soon), I’m going to do a series of article about the college dropout problem. One facet of that discussion is that boys are dropping out at greater rates than girls.

There’s been some small buzz about Gen Z and college, but I think we’re going to start seeing more stats on this soon. I talked to a girl last year, who told me how annoyed she was by her college education, so maybe it’s not just a girl thing. I’m going to ask more questions about all this soon.

If all this is true, I’m not upset. A little rebellion every now and then is a good thing. If the status quo sucks, then I hope that young people say “fuck it” and cause disruption.

Storming the Castle

Imagine a castle with very high ramparts. Ramparts that grow higher every day. In the castle are suburban homes, good schools, doctors for sick children, 401K plans to protect the elderly. On the vast fields surrounding the castle are McDonalds jobs, over priced health clinics, crumbling schools with exhausted and poorly trained teachers.

There’s a siege. Commanders, with good intensions and few resources, are sending their soldiers against the walls. Some march to their doom. Others are flung on catapults or try to scale the walls with ladders. A few make it over the walls, but the majority lay dead on the field.

Right now, the best chance that most kids have to achieve that American Dream is to finish college and earn a BA. The statistics are clear. People with a college degree have greater lifetime earnings and more opportunities for good jobs than those who don’t have that degree. Workers without a college degree have been displaced by technology and global markets.

By now, all know that. So, education leaders and activists have told students that they must attend college. Students have been given sermons and lectures that they can do it. They’ve been empowered and enlightened. But they haven’t been given the weapons and tools to make it through the battle. The dropout rate is huge, particular for low income, poor students.

Because to get through college degree requires years of training. Students need hard skills — math facts, essay composition, knowledge of science and history — but most can’t pass basic standardized tests for math or reading. They need soft skills – how to organize tasks, study independently, plan for the future. They need to understand the complicated bureaucratic structures of colleges and other college hacks — where do you go when you financial aid check doesn’t come in, how do you create a balanced course schedule, what’s a bursor’s office.

Meanwhile, it’s much harder to finish college these days. Standards are higher, particularly for the STEM classes. A student with a simple college prep high school class in biology will sit in a lecture hall next to a student who took honors biology in his Freshman year of high school, took AP biology in his senior year, studied with a tutor for the Biology SATs, and may have attended a STEM camp at the local community college. They will be given the same final exam, and the kid with all that experience will set the curve. The regular student has no chance.

And students are further away from adults – adults with full time positions – than ever before. They are hurded into massive state colleges with tens of thousands of students. They attend lectures with hundreds of students, where the only person who can answer questions is a temporary worker who has no incentive to answer emails and is struggling financially herself.

The bureaucracies at these schools are Kafkaesque, unable to handle glitches in the system. The glitches are kids, who fail out of that biology class, who have trouble paying a bill, who can’t find those majors that shelter the less educated students.

The bodycounts are high. 84 percent of low income kids drop out of college. They stagger away from the schools, depressed and battered. They blame themselves, their families, and their communities for not preparing them. They are saddled with debt and no degree. They come back home and tell others to stay away. We have to wonder whether it was fair to send them to the battle with so little preparation. We have to assume some of the guilt for the wreckage.

And we have to work to change the system. K-12 schools need to prepare al kids for college in all ways from the hard skills to knowledge of the job markets to the basic college hacks. But without a major infusion of cash, that isn’t going to happen. In some states, there is 1 guidance counselor for every 700 kids. [edited] Test scores haven’t budged in decades.

Some say that the solution is for kids to bypass high schools and start sending kids to the local community college for high school classes (a growing trend). Others say that we need to boost community colleges and technical schools that can prepare kids for real jobs that don’t require a BA. Some high school charter schools are now following students into college to support them.

The conversation is starting to go beyond “free college” and “abolish student loans,” because it’s becoming clear that money, or the lack thereof, is only one small problem in this system. Political leaders haven’t caught up yet. It’s the job of writers and thought leaders to get them up to speed and to do something about the walking wounded, the students who have been chewed up by the system.

OPINION: Out of necessity, I taught my son to choose a college for its value, not its prestige or vibe — My latest in The Hechinger Report

Without photoshopping his face onto the body of a water polo athlete, like some of the parents caught up in the recent U.S. college cheating scandal, I could have prepped my older son, Jonah, for college like a prize pumpkin at the county fair.

Starting when he was in middle school, I could have taken a stronger role in overseeing his schoolwork by editing his papers, re-teaching certain subjects and hiring tutors in others. I could have checked his online gradebooks daily. I could have supervised homework and nudged him to schmooze with teachers. In high school, we could have hired one-on-one tutors to prepare him for standardized tests. I could have pushed him to take on leadership positions in clubs he didn’t care about. I could have written his essay and filled out the Common Application for him.

Lots of parents do these tasks; most aren’t even considered cheating. It’s just how things are done these days among many upper- and middle-class families.

With our backgrounds in higher education, my husband and I have more relevant skills than many other families in our community. We likely could have micromanaged our kid into Harvard. But we didn’t. Between our son’s stubborn resistance to our help, and our own ethics and laziness, we did very little to turn our kid into a tidy package for colleges. Instead, I taught my son how to be a good education consumer.

More here.

Too Few Guidance Counselors, Too Little Information: Why Community College Might Be the Best Path for High School Graduates — But They’ll Never Know It

Natalie Hamilton, left, Northwood High School counselor, gives college advice to senior students Bianca Schteiden, 18, at Northwood High School in Irvine. The University of California is starting waiting lists for its freshman application process. Hamilton feels the students don’t need any more anxiety that the lists will produce. (Photo by Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Sometimes a community college is right for students, for financial or academic or career reasons, but they aren’t getting enough info about community colleges in high school. Here’s my article on the topic:

Despite a stellar high school record with great grades, Advanced Placement classes and leadership positions on the debate team and in marching band, Jennifer Hernandez was completely unprepared during her senior year to choose a college or even comprehend the jargon that surrounds the application process.

“I did not know where to start,” she said. As a first-generation student living in the Chicago suburb of Rolling Meadows, Illinois, she didn’t have family who could decipher the terminology or take her to visit college campuses. Nor did she get that help from an adviser. Like many high schools around the country, hers did not have enough guidance counselors, she said. And the counselors the school did have were too busy to support students who needed extra help, like her.

With no one to guide her, Hernandez applied to a number of four-year colleges — some local, some chosen at random — not realizing until she received her acceptance letters that she could not afford them. She then scrambled, on her own, to apply to a community college later in the spring of her senior year. Her school counselors, she said, again didn’t help with her application, or provide much-needed information about how she could eventually transfer to a four-year school. With the stigma associated with community college, Hernandez said, she felt demoralized. “It was pretty rough,” she said.

More here.

Free College and Student Loan Forgiveness in the Democratic Debate

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., talk during in the first of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Tuesday, July 30, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Last night, education policy was front and center. But only higher education. Both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have various proposals that aim at reducing the burden of college students and recent graduates. On the table are free college and student loan forgiveness.

Now, college tuition rates are insane. Some colleges are $73,000 for full cost of attendance. Yes, there are tuition discounts for merit and need, but lots of students pay full freight. That’s their sticker price. And some students do rack up significant amounts of debt, particularly if they tack on masters degrees, take a long time to graduate, and just make bad decisions.

You know that I’m highly sympathetic and have ranted about those issues for a while. But I’m worried about blank checks for college for a number of reasons.

It penalizes people who made hard choices to avoid debt: A school teacher who doesn’t take vacations but puts money in 529 accounts for her kids since birth. A college graduate who takes a boring job, rather than the dream job, to pay off the loans. A student who attends a community college for two years, before transferring to a four year college. The kid who goes to an in-state public college, solely because of cost.

It does nothing for students who can’t finish college, which may be even more of a serious crisis than debt.

It does nothing for students who need a degree from a trade school. Or don’t attend college at all, but still need training and employment support.

It does nothing to stop the cause of the problem – colleges. They are allowed to keep raising tuition, even at in-state public colleges, without any checks. Even, as they do in my state, waste buckets of cash on losing sports teams. And there is no pressure on them to improve quality. They keep replacing full time faculty with adjuncts.

There is no distinction between public and private colleges in their plans. A public college is a right, a private college is not.

As many have pointed out, it benefits the middle class without much trickle down help for working and lower class citizens.

Steve and I attended a grad school program that didn’t provide any funding for its grad students. Not even tuition. (Yes, majorly stupid, but let’s move on.)

I kept my loans manageable by working part-time, sometimes full time, at a policy institute at the same time as taking classes and writing a dissertation. I also taught a few classes. Steve taught a great deal, while doing his classwork. While students at other universities were building their CVs, we were ghost writing papers and teaching 50+ students at the Bronx Community College.

Even with all that, our combined student loan debt when we got married was over $75,000. We paid it off around my 50th birthday. We’re better off than most of our classmates, who were looking at bigger numbers. That debt was awful. It had a big impact on our careers and other life choices (children, homes). Grad school was a MAJOR financial train wreck. (I’m not even going to talk about the impact of beginning to save for retirement in your mid 30’s, rather than your 20’s.)

So, I am highly, HIGHLY sympathetic to anybody who wants to ease that burden on others. Yet, I’m not entirely happy with the current proposals, because they don’t check the colleges themselves, don’t distinguish between public and private colleges, penalize good behavior, and don’t help people who choose alternatives to college.