This ran as an op-ed in today's Cleveland Plain Dealer. It should be required reading for the parents of every college student in the country. No on is ever going to say this to the parents of the students at my former place of employment. And I will tell you why. Because parents represent what is the bottom line to colleges today: the almighty dollar. Parents threaten to take their money and leave, and rather than explain that a college degree is earned, not purchased, administrators cave to their demands.
Kudos to Tom Chema for saying what every administrator, instructor and staff member at every university and college knows to be the truth.
Dependence on parents leaves college students unprepared
Cleveland Plain Dealer
Friday, August 24, 2007
Thomas V. Chema
The overloaded SUVs, pickup trucks and minivans are pulling up in front of our dorms at Hiram College. In my four years as president, I've seen more than a few U-Hauls filled to the brim with big-screen TVs, rolled-up rugs and giant futons. One survey estimates the average freshman spends $1,200 on necessities for his or her dorm room.
All that new "stuff" our students bring to college doesn't bother me. It's the fact that so many of our academically well-prepared students aren't ready to cut the cord to mom and dad.
And really, why should they?
Having their parents run interference has worked well for this generation. Many of today's kids are very comfortable with having dad call the coach to complain about playing time. Mom chats online with teachers and uses Web-based grade books to keep daily tabs on academics. Because they are continually tracking and monitoring their children's whereabouts via cell phones, parents quickly solve any problems or scheduling glitches. Coming to the rescue is part of their job.
But what happens once the college search is over and the new extra-long sheets are on the dorm bed? As part of our three-day New Student Institute at Hiram, we intentionally scheduled family farewells for 3 p.m. today, Day One. In other words: Time for the folks to say goodbye and go home.
Unfortunately, that's when our student life staff starts fielding calls. Even before the New Student Institute is over, parents are on the line asking what the college is going to do about their 18-year-old's roommate problems. Statistics show that 90 percent of first-year students arrive on campus having never shared a bedroom. These kids don't know how to live in close quarters with someone else, let alone deal with conflicts over TV channels, music choices or when to shut off the lights.
But they do know that a cell phone call to mom will take care of it. And -- even more alarming to me -- when these students get their first critical comment from a professor or a grade lower than a B, their solution is to call home and have dad fix it.
I feel sorry for the students and sorrier for their parents. Families are making a huge investment in a college education for their offspring but not using that experience to prepare their child for the real world.
So what should our first-year students bring with them to college? Here's my wish list:
A commitment to confront their own problems.
Responsibility for the choices or decisions they make.
An open mind and willingness to negotiate with others.
The stuff these young adults really need -- responsibility and resiliency -- is not for sale at Target or Bed, Bath & Beyond. For 18- to 22-year-olds, college is a time to begin to grow up. For parents, it's time to let them have that chance.
Chema is president of Hiram College.