If you are the parent of a high school student, you are likely to be—or soon will be—caught up in the game of “where is junior going to college?” Many of you went to college twenty five or more years ago and the experience you had is likely the frame of reference you use in trying to decide—with junior’s participation, of course—where junior should enroll. It is my thesis here that many of you will pose the wrong questions when attempting to find an answer.
As you ponder the college question, you recall your experience and likely subscribe to the following axiomatic beliefs:
Armed with these beliefs, which you subtly—and not so subtly—imparted to your high school kid, you initiate the long, torturous and perplexing search for a suitable campus at which your child can reap all the benefits that you envision for him or her. The choices are legion and the possibilities bewildering. And so, in order to make the decision more manageable, you pose for yourself and your child a set of critical questions. They probably run something along these lines:
Well, I have news for you. Things have changed drastically since you walked the leafy campus of your alma mater and these “things” are almost unrecognizable from what they were like 50 years ago. Which things? Among others: the academic curriculum (it is quite possibly diluted, unfocused, and rife with speciously inauthentic subjects of study); the extra-curricular activities—to wit, sex, drugs and rock-n-roll; a highly politicized environment on campus with political vectors pointing in only one direction; the composition of the faculty (a surfeit of adjuncts replacing the tenured faculty with whom students are supposed to interact); employment options open to graduates (much lower level than in past generations); the cost of the beast (astronomical); the pernicious effect of the feds (on students via loans, on faculty via grants, and on the whole place via a plethora of regulations that are strangling academic freedom); a derogatory interpretation of American history and culture; unchecked grade inflation on “elite” campuses; and the demise of in loco parentis—meaning that the university makes no effort toward and bears no responsibility for the rearing of your immature teen into a mature young adult.
These changes, of which you might not be aware, can wreak havoc in families that have just sent a child off to college. How many times have you heard the story of the college freshman who returns home for Thanksgiving and by the end of the weekend, the parents are thinking: “Who is this alien and what has it done with our child?” Well, if you want to avoid that experience, here are a better set of questions for you to ponder as you and your child search for the perfect campus:
If you can answer these questions honestly and definitively—and in a consistent way, then the selection of a few suitable institutions should not be difficult and you should be able to find a desirable institution that will accept her.
The university is a place of great opportunity for your child. But it is also a place of great danger. The latter is true in a literal sense as the occurrences of rape, severe hazing, and theft are all too common on college campuses these days. But the more common dangers are: several semesters of floundering leading to a dropout and a demoralized youngster; or worse, a radicalization of your child as a consequence of the charged political atmosphere on campus; or worst of all—whether Susie graduates or not—enormous debt that cripples your child economically for decades, interfering with her ability to marry, have children or buy a home.
Sending Johnny off to college is not the same as dropping him daily at the local high school. At age 17 or 18, he is not an adult—although he will feel free to think of himself as one. There are many campuses at which his head will be filled with indoctrination rather than education. There are other campuses at which his psyche will be reinforced with the kind of knowledge and behavior that will equip him for life as a responsible adult and citizen. You and he have a serious decision to make. In order to find the right college, you need to ask the right questions.
Ron Lipsman, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at the University of Maryland, writes about politics, culture, education, science and sports at http://ronlipsman.com. Follow him on Twitter @rlipsman
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