We just came back from college orientation for our youngest. We’ve been through this before so there should have been no surprises. And there weren’t. But I did walk away from the experience with a complete lack of nostalgia for college life. What was presented to us parents was a college experience very unlike the one most of us had some twenty years ago. Several parents commented that they were glad they weren’t going to have to live on campus, and the comment did not stem from a dread of cramped dorm living. The sentiment came more from the perspective presented by the college faculty and our student leaders in their tours and skit presentations. Thanks to a very frank video made by George Will about today’s college, I know it was not just this university or just the parents we happened to speak with that are witnessing this change in perspective. College ain’t what it used to be.

Will notes that many students will leave school after a few semesters but with no degree. The professor in one of our sessions provided statistics for the university that were in line with this. Only 43% of the students coming this fall will graduate in 2019. If we stretch out their time on campus to six years, the numbers look better, 65% will obtain a degree, but that still means that 35% of the students will have spent money on classes but have no degree to show for it.

Of those that graduate with a degree, some will have degrees that prepare them for nothing that is highly valued by society. I remember last year at a college open house hearing from a young woman who had a degree in women’s studies. She told the parents sitting in the room that she was lucky to get a job with the university. I don’t think she realized how that sounded. Apparently the only thing a women’s studies degree prepares one for is working for a university admissions office to promote that degree to other gullible students.

While at the university students will live in a protective cocoon of pseudo real life. There are more counselors and support centers than you can shake a stick at. And according to the skits we saw, where the Social Justice League shot down a mouthy asteroid that was bothering students and an African American student equated the lashings of an imagined slave ancestor to her self mutilation inflicted to overcome her perceived lack of self worth which came from excessive naval gazing, the students need never suffer on this campus because there will be some support/rescue service to help them. Ironically, being promised that they need never suffer from cruel words by others means that all these students will live in an oppressive environment where the mob is ready to pounce of them at a moments notice for uttering a phrase that has been deemed hurtful, racist, trigger or plain offensive. Will points out that the freedom from such painful words does not exist in the real world, so the university isn’t really preparing them for life on the outside when it comes to free speech.

In our orientation session the university spun this tale of college being the student’s adventure. While they never said the exact words, the meaning was clear. Back off mom and dad. This is about your child’s life, not yours. True enough. If a student has no purpose for or expectation of college, no personal motivation or drive, and is only there to make mommy and daddy happy, they are not likely to succeed. However, there is the small point of who is financing this little adventure in pseudo adulthood and how much say the financial backer gets in the adventure.  That is an issue whether we are talking about a university, a research lab or a mergers and acquisitions firm. Usually the one who pays has the greater say. While not every parent is paying, many are, and they have every right to have a say in what their money is being used for. Not every eighteen year old has achieved sufficient maturity to completely run their own life. Some still need support (or a kick in the pants) which only the family can provide.  The professor/speaker said as much when he told the kids, once here on campus nobody cares if you go to class or do the work. Maybe no one on campus cares, but there are still people at home who do.

The university has chosen to pervert  FERPA to support their position that the child is in charge of their college experience. The way FERPA was presented to the parents, one would think that the reason Congress passed the  law was to formalize the break between adult child and parents. The message we heard was, after the age of 18 the child is independent of their parents and it is only through a conscious act of granting the parents permission to see academic and financial information that they can be allowed to stay involved with the child’s college adventure.

They completely ignored that the F in FERPA stands for family which inherently has Rights that the government was protecting.  Those rights have to do with the P which stands for privacy.  It is not the child’s privacy from the family the act was meant to protect, it was the child’s privacy from the prying eyes of institutions and corporations involved in providing education. FERPA was meant to protect the children from professors using them for their research without their knowledge or consent. It was meant to protect the very personal data the university asked them to hand over in the numerous forms they were asked to fill out for housing, majors, financial aid and class schedules. Students have rights to inspect their records, correct their records, question the “legitimate education interest” in using information in their records and place statements into their records if they disagree with information contained therein. THIS critical understanding of FERPA rights was not explained to the students. As far as they know it is some sort of emancipation proclamation.

College seemed a lot different twenty years ago. In many ways it was. There weren’t as many of them competing for students. There wasn’t the amount of money involved that there is now. Will points out that students now graduate with the debt equivalent of a mortgage, but with no house. The horrible reality is that businesses have supported this charade by requiring a college degree for many jobs that really don’t require  university training. Students are forced to pay enormous sums of money to obtain the certificate that gets them an interview. Remember that 35% who got some education but not the full degree? Where is the option for them to take all the training they did get and use that to get the interview? There is no summative exam for all of college, no equivalent of the bar exam or the medical licensing exam that students have to pass in order to get the diploma. A degree just represents an accumulation of time in various classrooms.  Doesn’t the fact that someone could have 2-4 years of college classes yet not even be considered for a job expose the racket that is today’s college degree?

Colleges have become a public sector business to support private sector businesses. They are guaranteed customers because they have the federal government pushing out slogans about everyone needing to go to college. Those customers will have pre-approved credit in the form of government backed college loans. But they also have a line of income not available to private businesses, the charitable donation.

Will mentions that, a few years after graduation, your alma mater will begin calling you asking for a donation. His voice cracks a little thinking of the absurdity of this business model.  You pay handsomely for the college service at the time you are there. Then the “business” comes back years later and asks you to pay more so someone else can enjoy their college service, knowing full well that those future customers have access to and are probably using the government backed student loans to pay for the service.  Colleges and universities don’t filter their call lists to only contact those gainfully employed in the field the university trained them for, which means they will likely be calling on adults still struggling to find work in any field, not necessarily they one they studied, in order to pay back the large debt they still owe for their useless degree. How any script could be written for the poor schlub in the call center that could convince the struggling alumn to give more money to the university is beyond me.

Will gives the speech he thinks college graduates should hear if colleges were being honest. “Graduates, you have been saddled with debt and bad ideas. Good luck, You’re going to need it.” Maybe that’s the speech they should be giving at orientation so we can all be informed consumers. We might want to rethink our choice to shop there.

 

 

Footnote – for those who will ask why we are sending our son to college anyway knowing all of this, I can only say this.  He and his father are experiential learners. All I can do is have the alternatives here waiting if/when this “adventure” goes south.

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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