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.

Ian’s Birthday Surprise

Yankee games are funny. The stadium is full of a lot of Bronx types – Italians and Puerto Ricans — and former Bronx types who have moved to New Jersey. There are always a few solitary old dudes who come by themselves with binders of batting statistics. They obsessively record every run and error. They are part of Ian’s tribe.

Ian loves going to Yankee games. It’s totally his own thing. Jonah and Steve prefer soccer. I like eating food and drinking beer at sports games, but have very little interest in the game itself. Ian likes baseball, though only at the stadium. He watches every pitch and hit. He likes the corny rituals, like the grounds guys who have to dance to YMCA while fixing the dirt. He reads every word that comes up on the jumbo screen, including the birthday wishes.

Ian turned 15 yesterday. For $25, he got an awesome surprise.

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The Timer Went Off

Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors; How a Filibuster Works; Hard Work Matters More than Brains

Jonah’s college acceptance letter has triggered the reality that he’s going to be gone in six months. I have six months left to parent, before he’s gone. He’ll be on his own. And there’s so much left to teach him.

Why Smart Girls Are Better Than Cheerleaders; Why You Should Never Rinse Pasta After You Finish Boiling It

There’s still so much that he doesn’t know, and I don’t have much time. The ten minute drive to his high school is the only time where he’s captive, strapped in the car, forced to listen. I babble using the morning news as the entry into topics that we never talked about before. I have to give him a crash course on life. How did I forget to teach him the difference between the House and the Senate?

The House Writes the Budget Because the Founders Thought that the Branch That Was Closest to the People Should Have the Most Say Over Money and Taxes

Yes, he’ll have to figure out a lot of this on his own, but I could have taught him this earlier. I wasted time. We were too caught up in the details of life — the homework and the soccer practice. And then his friends and cellphone shouted me out.

Your Great-great Grandfather Was a Famous Oboist; Was Napolean Really Short?; Never Put a Red Sweatshirt in the Washing Machine With White Undershirts

He’s undercooked. How is going to fare on a college campus that first semester without this information? This is what happens when a neurotic parent and former college professor starts to panic. She lectures.

5 Days, 5 Colleges, 5 States (Part 3)

I’ve been trying to get Jonah to enjoy reading fiction. “I don’t care what you read. Just read. How about the new Harry Potter? It doesn’t have to be great literature. It can be anything. I want you to get so absorbed in a book that you don’t even notice that you’ve turned a hundred pages or that you missed lunch or that 12 friends have sent you texts.”

I asked him what his favorite book from his English class was. He said Huckleberry Finn. Well, Huckleberry Finn is essentially a road trip book, I told him — a traveler goes to different towns, meets crazy, random people, gets briefly caught up in their craziness, maybe dodges some dangers, and then moves on, because the traveler is somehow freed from the usual responsibilities that chains the rest of us down to one place. The first roadtrip book was The Odyssey. And then there’s a long and glorious tradition of road trips books, since then and I suggested a few. He sighed and rolled his eyes and said that they all sounded boring.

We had our own little roadtrip last week. Visiting these gleaming cities of college campuses. Of course, we didn’t have to deal with one-eyed Cyclops or pissed off mobs demanding revenge for sideshow scams. We did have to deal with the call of the Sirens though, which is going to rob us blind as we polish off our oldest son for the modern job market.

I’ve pulled out my notebook this morning and have a list of more fun stuff offered at the schools that we visited: Zumba classes, a Fetty Wop concert (I guess he hit all the schools on our list this spring), speeches by Bill and Hill, Bernie, and Janet Yellin, tutoring, farm to table salad bar, brick oven pizza, classes on doing laundry, free movies every night, busses.

So, how did we survive all those boring tours? In 95 degree heat? That lasted two hours? How did we drag around a 14-year old with slight autism? Pokemon Go, baby. It saved the day. The campuses were loaded with Pokemon and pokeballs and eggs and silliness. And we also bookended the visits with lots of fun stuff, like tours of the Ben and Jerry’s factory, swims in the hotel pools, lobster rolls and microbrew. In the evening, we watched the DNC until late. It was a grand adventure.

The tours didn’t bother me too much, because they gave me lots of ammo for the Atlantic (and other venues) this fall.

(Gotta drive Jonah to his track practice and then hit the gym myself. I’ll finish off this saga later this afternoon.)

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)

Spreadin’ Love 669

Three good articles about class and taxes. Bryce Covert says $250,000 isn’t middle class. Megan McArdle says that Democrats would have to raise taxes on this group to pay for their programs. And the richest find new ways to hide their money.

Eat healthy-ish.

I’m cleaning up the house for the New Year with Hoarders Buried Alive on TV. I find mental illness very motivating.

I’m ignoring the boys as toss out all the Christmas crap. Ian is blissfully playing video games. Jonah and his friends are trying to figure out plans for tonight.

“What do you want to do?” “I don’t know. What do you want to do?” “I don’t know.” He’s on a group chat with twenty clueless teenagers trying to hash out plans without firmly commiting to one plan, in case something better comes along.

I’m making a big pot of chili with the hopes that they will end up here. If they don’t, I’ll track Jonah with the “Find my Phone” app all night. I would like a “How Drunk is My Teenager?” app, please.