Friday Randomness

I am working on an article this week, which took a sharp left turn. I started writing about a small problem. I did a bunch of interviews, and the information took me into a whole new area.  It’s like I’ve been writing about tigers for years and suddenly realized that tigers have morphed into turtles. I’m not sure what to do with the information. Sit on it and write the little article? Write it all up now? Who should I tell about this? Do I really have the right story?  I spent more time thinking than writing this week.

Did you know that there aren’t any organizations or groups, with real power or visibility, that represent the interests of college students?

Luckily, we can afford for me to waste time thinking and not constantly churning out words for dollars, like most writers today. Still, one does have to actually produce something eventually. So, I’m shutting down all distractions for the morning and producing a rough draft, even if it is triple the size of a normal article. I’ll divide it up later.

Does anybody feel a little sorry for Al Franken?

Check out Harry’s post on 529s at Crooked Timber?

 

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Price Tags and Service

So, Jonah’s been away at college for two months. Enough time to give some preliminary evaluations.

The good side is that he has totally drunk the kool-aid. Every item of clothing that he wears has the college logo. He proudly tells me that his school is damn tough. The kids are smart enough to go to Ivy League schools. Many of his friends were admitted to Ivy League schools. They just didn’t want to waste their money.

He has nice friends. He never calls home unless I’m sending him all-caps texts that say, “CALL. YOUR. MOM. NOW.”

But I’m pretty appalled at everything else. The advisement office put him in the wrong Intro to Physics class. There are two Intro to Physics classes at his school – one has a calculus pre-requisite. He took him a week to figure out that he was in the wrong class. It was too late to get into the non-calc Physics class, so they put him in the Intermediate German class and didn’t warn him that the class was pretty much only for advanced students majoring in German.

All of his teachers are adjuncts. And they tell the students that are over worked and under paid all the time. One got fired in the middle of the semester and was replaced by a very, very old adjunct who complains all the time about his physical pains. He said that he can’t do office hours, because his wife has to drive to him school.

His bio and calc classes have 400 students.

It can take a 40 minute bus ride to get to class, because the campus is spread out over several towns.

It’s very hard to get extra help for calculus.

A small private college would easily cost another $35,000. So, I still think we did the right thing provided we make some changes. I’m taking over academic advisement for him. I spent two hours going over all the course guides, syllabi, and major requirements for the spring terms. I called Deans. I yelled at some. We’ll pay for a math tutor. After we pick his classes, we going to lean into Rate My Professor and make sure that he gets better teachers next semester.

Perhaps this is why only 58% of students graduate in four years.

The Landmines

So, I have one kid in college. People keep asking me, “how does it feel? Did you cry when he left?”

Actually, I was less sad than I expected. I didn’t cry. Sure, I miss him, but he’s doing what he needs to do, and it’s all good. In some ways, it’s a huge relief. Not just because there is less laundry and less driving. It’s also because I’m done.

I had a college-bound kid. I got him there. Boom. It doesn’t always happen. The teenage years are full of land-mines ranging from mental health issues to drug dealing friends to sheer laziness. But my kid is in a good school that we can afford and, hopefully, he’s mature enough now that we’ve left those dangers behind.

Ian is a separate case. I have no idea what will happen to him, but at least there’s no worry about the landmines.

A friend told me that two days before her son left for college, the kid got stinking drunk, puked on the sofa, and curled up in the bathtub. I told Jonah about this kid and he laughed. He asked, “aren’t you glad that Ian will never do that?” First, I said YES. Then I said no. Jonah told me that the correct answer is yes, because Ian finds his own happiness, and it doesn’t involve destroying his liver and ruining upholstery. Because Jonah is a very, very good kid.

I suppose that there are still landmines that Jonah will face in college. He could sleep through his classes, fail his exams, and drink too much at fraternities.

So, let’s talk about fraternities. I’m not a fan. I’m trying not to be too judgy, because they serve a real purpose on large college campuses. They help to create communities. But, but, but. The drinking. The dubious traditions. The exclusivity. The group think. The everything I hate.

Jonah has been attending the fraternity parties. He’s got open access to booze without any bother with a fake license or anything. The cops and the school don’t care, which surprised me. I thought they would be cracking down on drinking after Penn State.

The only barrier to the booze and the parties have come from the frat brothers themselves who usually don’t want too many freshman boys at their parties. They want the girls. But Jonah has been getting in, because he’s good looking and because he learned how to fix taps and kegs, while at his job at the tavern this summer. Jonah is on the guest list at several fraternities already after three weeks of school. Ugh.

The only mercy is that I don’t have to see this. I will admit that I have monitored his activities using the “Find My Friends” app. (Shhh. Don’t tell him.) But he’s forty minutes away, so I can’t smell his breath or know what time he stumbles in.

He’s taking a heavy math-science course load, so he isn’t going to be able to get into too much trouble without us knowing about it. His grades will reflect his ratio of studying to partying time effectively. Hello, FERPA form! And he’s an adult and he knows it. College is on him. If he fucks up, he goes to community college.

Higher Ed Drama

My Facebook people are ranting about the woman who killed her kid, was accepted to Harvard’s grad program, and then disinvited because some faculty feared the FOX News backlash.

And now Chelsea Manning has been disinvited from Harvard, though they are still inviting the rest of the reality stars. (This is the true story… of seven strangers… picked to live in a house…(work together) and have their lives taped… to find out what happens… when people stop being polite… and start getting real…The Real World.)

Meh. Meh. Meh.

I’m have a hard time getting worked up about the slights to the child abuser and the traitor. There’s so much going on here though. We have famously risk adverse academics and an academic-hating alt-right who are spoiling for a fight. We have the business end of higher ed that wants the big names to build their brand. We have left-oriented, insulated faculty who think that they must keep the barbarians on the other side of the wall.

Admissions Games

So, Donald Trump wants the Justice Department’s civil rights division to investigate and sue universities over affirmative action admissions policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants.

There are about a hundred ways to take apart Trump’s assumptions about college admission practices. I have exactly twenty minutes before Ian gets home, needs lunch, and then a drive to the community college for computer class. Let’s see how far I can get…

If you want to talk about one group pushing out another group from one of the finite positions in higher education, then the group to attack isn’t African-Americans. They make up a very small faction of all students at elite colleges in this country.  A 2015 article at the Atlantic points out that at ” all top-tier universities, black undergraduate populations average 6 percent, a statistic that has remained largely flat for 20 years.” Not a big number.

So, if you want to target one group that is taking an increasing number of spots at elite institutions, you really want to look at international students. There are way more of them than there are African American students. Colleges are increasingly seeking them out, because they can pay full freight of tuition. Some rushed numbers that I pulled up from collegedata.com:

African-Americans International
Rutgers 8% 7.2
NYU 5.9 15.2
Columbia 6.4 17.9
Princeton 8.6 11.1
Harvard 7.3 11.4
UCLA 3.4 12.7
Univ. of IL 6.4 15.4

Secondly, all the research shows that the biggest problem is that excellent poor/minority students do not apply to elite schools when they have great GPAs/SATS and would be admitted. They are intimidated by the whole process and are fearful of leaving their communities. So, they end up at less selective local schools, where they sometimes end up paying more — a phenomenon known as “under-matching.” And elite colleges want to make it even more difficult for those kids by creating a new application process.

Thirdly, admissions offices have quotas for all groups. It’s way easier to get into college if you’re a dude. It’s easier to get into college if you aren’t from the Northeast. Asian girls from New Jersey have a much tougher time getting into elite schools than white dudes from North Dakota.

So, if Donald Trump really wants a completely unbiased system, then schools wouldn’t take into account gender, state, race/ethnicity, legacy, athletic prowess, and ability to pay full ticket cost for the school. Good luck with that.

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.