We're heading toward the Fourth of July holiday, the so-called midpoint of summer. That's an odd way to think of it because summer officially began just last week. The Big Three “summer" holidays are Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day, so I guess the Fourth is sort of in the middle. So it's a good time to consider predictions of how the fall might turn out for those heading to college.
Some of you about-to-be first-year college students will be heading to campus in later August, which will be here before you know it. I get a lot of inquiries from recent high school graduates who ask me, “What is college really like? Is it all that different from high school? How is college different now from when you went there?"
I always have to laugh at that last question. The difference between college back in my day and today's college experience is like the difference between the Wright Brothers' Kitty Hawk airplane and a Boeing 777, or maybe the difference between a Ford Model T and a Tesla Model X. It's a lot different.
I've written before about what I loved and didn't like about college. Today, I'll make some additional comments for the benefit of those of you who will be heading to campus for the first time later this summer and are seeking predictions of how it might go.
As I pondered the Big Picture of “college" these days, two Mount Everest-sized issues came to mind immediately:
1. Why does college cost so much?
2. Do you really need a college education to be happy and successful?
Speaking of mountains, there are mountains of data written about both of these issues. I won't get into a detailed series of references here about what that information says or who's saying it. However, I'll offer some comments on them below, along with my take, for what it's worth, on some of the things I liked about college. Such as:
-- Meeting new people. I came from a small, cloistered community dominated by blue-collar workers. Penn State greatly expanded my formerly limited culturally diverse horizons. I met the sons and daughters of wealthy professionals and some wildly talented artistic types.
-- Being part of a varsity sports team. Tennis was my sport. Before transferring to Penn State after my military service, I was a starter for a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania. I recall the thrill of providing the winning point in a team match against our prime rival.
-- Homecoming weekends. The one I remember most could have been the model for every homecoming. The weather was perfect: cool autumn temps, a deep blue, sunny skies and a dream date whom I still remember fondly.
On balance, though, I must consider a couple negatives:
-- Academic pressure. Of course, I realize that we go to college to learn, and part of the learning process demands academic accountability through testing and project deadlines. Now, believe it or not, I was a responsible student who (mostly) tried to do my best work in (most of) my classes, but sometimes I could feel the pressure in my stomach. It was stressful.
-- Questionable food. Believe it or not, the gentleman in charge of food service at my little liberal arts school had a last name of “Bloodgood." Yuck. Just thinking about that now makes me laugh. The food, though, was no laughing matter. It was bad. I hope that your food service will be great!
Negatives can sometimes outweigh the positives when it comes to reviewing higher education. Naturally, we dislike what seems like a lifetime of debt, thanks to student loans. We may also dislike working as a truck driver or Starbucks barista after spending a fortune for four years as a philosophy major, even though some are happy (and successful) in those types of jobs.
As I was pondering all things college, I found a cool article entitled 13 Things Students Love to Hate About College. Before giving you some further thoughts of my own about college (below), let's take a quick look at some of the things students “love to hate" and what to do about them, which can help guide the predictions of how your college period will go.
-- College costs too much. [Heard that before?] “… Consider cheaper alternatives, such as community colleges or, in some cases, summer school …"
-- My professor is unbelievably boring.“… Drop the course and find another one with a better professor. Every college has its duds …"
-- I hate writing papers.“… Think about a paper as simple communication. Can you think up five reasons why the cop shouldn't give you a ticket when you were going 77 mph in a 25 mph zone? …"
-- My roommate would make Hannibal Lecter seem like a nice guy. “… See the dorm counselor or resident adviser on your floor as soon as possible …"
-- Dorm food sucks. [See above.] “… See if you can eat some meals at other dorms where the food is more upper class, ethnic, vegetarian, low-calorie, plentiful, or whatever else you'd prefer …" [Right.]
-- My dorm room makes the Motel 6 look like the Taj Mahal.“… At many schools, especially state universities, the dorms were built at many different times, and the quality varies significantly. Another thing to consider is living off campus …"
I have to wonder why the authors of this article say that students “love" to hate these issues. There seems to be a tone of masochism at work here.
Anyway, for the uninitiated, here are some of my additional thoughts -- predictions, really -- about college:
-- Don't look for college costs to come down anytime soon. The simple reason: Market forces and supply and demand. As long as there are more applicants than dorm beds, there's no need for colleges to get into the “sale" mode. Granted, there are some colleges whose budgets are in less-than-optimum shape and who are scouring the landscape for enrollments.
However, many, if not most, colleges are looking for ways to reject more students, thus making them appear to be more selective. As for the Ivy League and other so-called “elite" colleges, I think they will continue to raise their cost of attendance year after year. Why? Well, just as Three Days of The Condor hitman, Joubert, observed about his clients, “There's always someone willing to pay."
-- Look for the federal government to become more controlling over higher education. Unless you're on a news blackout, you must have certainly noticed that government regulation is creeping into many new areas of our everyday lives. The latest bureaucratic incursions are happening in the areas of student loans (although under the label of consumer protection) and even sports (remember the “concussion summit"?).
One of my predictions is that there will be significant admission-related changes invoked as a result of immigration reform and possibly due to the latest (and still ongoing) admissions scandal. State governments will have their say, too. We've already seen in-state tuition breaks for non-citizens attending some state universities. The red tape is going to get more red.
-- Classical liberal arts colleges will become more vocationally focused. Getting back to market forces, the rising need for workers with more highly focused skills will eventually demand that smaller private colleges begin offering more specialized degree programs to make their cost of education more attractive, not to mention more relevant.
Another of my predictions is that this will cause the pendulum to begin swinging away from such generalized degrees as ethnic and women's studies, and even such traditional majors as classics, philosophy and psychology, and gravitate toward programs teaching more specifically applicable skills, such as nursing and STEM-related disciplines.
College is an adventure, one that you'll remember for the rest of your life. There will be things that you love (“I never dreamed it could be this great!") and things you don't love (“I gotta get outta this place!). But, if you hang in there, you'll emerge as a different person. Among my most important predictions, I wish you the very best for far more likes than dislikes.