Friday, August 24, 2007

reading assignment

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.

Tripped up

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.


Kristy said...

But what about the CHILDREN?!?!?!

I agree totally with all that, but furthermore, to me this seems like the result of a child-centered society. Children have been progressively more and more sheltered over the years to the point where they have become socially stunted and incapable of dealing with their own problems. Combine that with a massively consumer society and privilege via debilitating consumer debt and you've got a real problem on your hands - one which you probably faced a ho-jillion times a day. No wonder you quit.

Conversely, living in the yuppified young family neighborhood that we do, Tom and I often see quite the, at first glance but not really, other side in the obliviousness of the yuppie parent who lets their child run all over the damn place, terrorize everyone else and basically, let them do whatever the hell they want. Oh we don't want to stifle their creativity or tell them that they are being bad (because that would hurt their feelings). We often remark to each other how our parents would never let us get away with such social inappropriateness. If Tom and I ever choose to have kids, raising children among other children like these would be a serious concern for me.

Now, I'm sure that older generations have said this about my generation, but hey - we weren't this bad. I was lucky enough to have tuition and room/meal plan assistance and a car when I went to college, but other than that I was cut off and the permanency of not being able to go back to my house (which had been sold and my family moved away) made it all very clear. I was totally shocked to find that I wasn't a straight A student anymore and never did I feel like there was something my mom could do about it. I would have been too ashamed to call my mom to tell her to fix it; I was finally an adult and it was my duty to take care of my problems. When I did go to her with an issue that I didn't know how to solve, she would offer kind advice and wish me luck. When she let go, I was able to start growing up and discovering myself - something I'm still working on :)

But still! What about kids these days? Where are they putting these big screens in those little dorm rooms? Why, when I went to college the only place you could get extra-long sheets was from the JC Penny catalog and we thought it was quite something that they came in 8 different colors! Uphill both ways! You were lucky if you got a crate to put your stuff on! And we liked it that way!

Bryan said...

Heh, just yesterday I was reading an article on Wikipedia about helicopter parents.

I agree with Chema... mostly. Although since he's the president of the college, I'll at least take a little issue with this line:

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.

That's fine if what he's saying is the literal truth; if classes haven't even started yet and the parents are already crying about roommate problems, that's one thing.

But I heard more than several horror stories at BG where Residence Life told students to "work it out" or that they had to endure X weeks of loud music, drugs, and roommate sex orgies before they were allowed to apply for a room change. I'm sorry, but you're there for education, and if Residence Life won't let you switch rooms before such-n-such a date, as if to say those first few weeks of classes don't matter... that's crap. And I'm sure when his parents called to speak to the higher-ups, they wrote them off as one of those meddling marionette parents, when all he wanted was a good night's sleep.

On the plus side, such experiences can teach students about "the real world," which can be just as bureaucratic and uncaring as a university. Sometimes schools like to pretend that students are their property when they feel the situation warrants, ignoring the fact that they're over 18 (*cough* Facebook censorship *cough*) -- but some employers are that way too. So like I say, it's not necessarily a bad thing to get a taste of this early in adult life.

Back in the libertarian days of the Cadre, we used to joke about how, although people are supposed to become more liberal in college, experiencing university monopolies and bureaucracies should turn off anyone to socialism. :D (Judging by the makeup of the Cadre now, I guess it didn't work.)

None of that is to excuse the modern parent, of course. The precursor to the helicopter parent (Leonardo flying machine parents?) are part of the reason my parents retired from teaching as soon as they had their 30 years in.

Although I realize my situation is different because I'm still living with my parents, I've so far found post-college life to be much better. When I'm sick, not only am I permitted a day off, but I get paid to take the day off. I don't have to get in touch with 5 different professors and beg with them to let me make up the missed work and convince them I'm not lying about my illness. Personally I always loved the profs whose syllabus said a doctor's note was required, yet the campus clinic had signs posted saying they wouldn't write doctor's notes.

Plus, there's the whole thousands of dollars in earned income thing. Although in grad school you usually get paid to go to school, which is a neat twist.

And on Sunday nights, I can watch Family Guy in peace without having to worry about what homework I neglected to finish over the weekend. ;)

anne mancine said...

I wish you could see the rooms in our newest residence halls. They are nothing like the rooms we all lived in. I'm sure you could fit a wide screen t.v. and a futon - for each of the roommates - in them. Plus, there is a bathroom for every one or two rooms, with daily cleaning service.

I understand that once in a while, a parent needs to step in and help out after a student has exhausted all other avenues. As you know, we put two kids through college, and I made a couple of phone calls over the years. But with these helicopter parents, it's on a daily basis about everything.

Kristy, your last paragraph had me laughing so hard. The strange thing is, we did like it that way. Funny, huh?

Kristy said...

Daily cleaning service?! Holy crap! I'm going back to undergrad!

I was just happy we didn't have communal showers because I was NOT having any of that business, thank you very much.

Ben said...

But you know, (borrowing from Kristy's and Bryan's comments), as more and more kids are being raised to be brats, the odds of getting one of these monsters as a roommate are going up. I don't know that university policies have kept pace with some of the serious issues you are now expected to "live with for X weeks". This invites/forces parents to step in to fill the gap. Again, much of the blame goes to the universities and their unresponsive policies.

Bryan said...

It's probably dangerous to be posting on a margarita buzz here, but for some reason... the term "helicopter parent" seems much funnier now than it did earlier today.


Especially since I have this image of some parents I know literally hovering over their children, making roffle noises. :D

anne mancine said...

Oh man, that cracked me right up, Bryan. Wish I was having a little margarita buzz right now.

How do they go again?

Beverly said...

Found the blog through the reference to H.C., and had to read more.

We just sent our oldest to his first year of college, dorm life and all. He seems a little miffed that we chose one of the less expensive meal plans and told him to use the money in his account if he needs more.

And, given that he was on the third floor, we limited the moving-in paraphanelia to one plastic bin and a large duffel bag of clothes. (And the computer, of course!)

He's doing fine!