College Is Wasted on the Young

Really. It is. I first had this insight when my youngest son headed off to college back in the fall of 2006. Here’s how it looked to me then.

First, you get to create a list of the various institutions where you might want to go. Someone takes you there to check it out. You get a tour and a sales pitch. You apply, providing a bit of evidence of your worth and interest. You get selected and invited to pick from one of your choices.

Now is when the really exciting deal begins. (a) Someone pays your way for four years–maybe longer. Arrrgh! My kids were both lucky enough to incur no college debt because I was able to pay for them to each attend our nearby state university–a fine institution, mind you, and quite reasonably priced. (b) You get to live in a building and a room for which you are required to provide no upkeep or maintenance. You either share a room with a supposedly compatible “colleague” or you arrange for a room of your own. (c) The room is furnished. You get to decorate it any way you want. (d) There are dining facilities near your residence. (e) You create a schedule of classes, labs, workshops, seminars, etc. based upon topics you want to study. (f) The schedule leaves you with plenty of discretionary or “free” time each week to use as you see fit. (g) You are surrounded by convivial colleagues who share the same or similar interests as you. (h) The campus includes special facilities for excercise, informal entertainment, other meal choices, research, medical needs, and artistic endeavors, just to name a few. (i) There is a regular schedule of special events and performances throughout the year. (j) You can come and go as you please–utilizing on-campus transportation, public transportation, or your own vehicle.

There are special local venues that cater to your needs, whims, and desires. I have heard that there is a party (or two) every weekend. There are many people with whom you may socialize. There are oppportunities for travel and personal advancement and/or fulfillment. There is an annual schedule that allows you to participate in alternative activities, to visit with family and friends in other locations, or to vacation away from campus.

I went to college a LONG time ago–from fall, 1968 through spring of 1972. [Forty years is a long time.]  What this idea back to mind was a piece on NPR this afternoon about the rising costs of a college education and an exploration of what might have led to the doubling of the cost of college over the past thiry years.

My, how things have changed on college campuses.

The piece featured a recent $34 million addition to the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. This includes a four-story climbing wall, as well as a special zero-entry pool with vortex and whirlpool. Don’t ask. (The website lists the following enticements: rock climbing wall with bouldering/caving wall, belaying classes; 18,000 sq. foot fitness center with cardio, selectorized and free weight equipment; the Leisure Pool is maintained at 83- 85 degrees F, with depth ranges from zero entry to 5 feet deep–in other words you can “walk right in, sit right down; Baby, let your hair hang down”. Relax.)

WTH? I knew things were different when I found this note on the VCU website: Spa available during all open pool hours, except for Thursdays 9:00 – 11:00 am when closed for routine maintenance.

Spa? Spa? 18-22 year-old college kids don’t need a spa, and may be living in a dream-world of opportunity, luxury, and indulgence. Which they have neither earned, mind you,  nor do they deserve, in my humble opinion. LOL But, we have–the we being my age-mates and fellow hard-working, long-suffering, spa-deserving Baby Boomers.

Why just retire when you could go to college? And, I do not mean taking a few classes at the local college or joining the crowd at the Academy for Lifelong Learning. I want a room with a view. And a cabana boy.

I transferred from Hood College to Goucher College–both womens’ colleges in 1970–and was thrilled to discover that Saturday night on campus was “steak night.” Even though the steaks were tough, over-cooked, slivers of beef through which one could barely move a knife blade. The food at both schools was OK, but nothing to write home about. Meals at Hood were served family style to each table in the one and only dining hall, and I can recall no alternatives to the regular meal. Goucher had a modern cafeteria with some choices. Someone had left an endowment fund for peanut butter, so that was always available. The food choices today are dizzying compared to the limits and lack of variety in my experience back in the day.

OK. To be honest, a number of upgrades would have to be implemented in order to suit the tastes and expectations of the fifty-and-over crowd. For example, we would expect fabulous food, as well as a full range of cocktails, beers, and wines.

Not to mention private rooms and suites. Hey–don’t fool yourself. There are plenty of colleges right now that offer suites with private bathroom facilities. Certainly beats that long bleary-eyed walk down the hall to the communal toilets and showers. Only to discover that you left the shower caddy or towel or toothbrush back in your room,…

Imagine being able to choose to live somewhere in a nice roomy room with regular maid service; with great meals in a lovely dining area not far from your humble (ahem) abode; with classes and activities tied to your interests–studying now what you’ve always wanted to study, learning about what you have finally figured out that you want to know more about. My studies would include: archeology, anthropology, geology, linguistics, Italian and Japanese, The Cold War, water-color painting, ceramics, welding, drumming, and landscape design.

Shortly after my son went to college, he called me one night to extoll the virtues of not just getting away from home but of having the chance to live in a decent furnished room, with meals provided, with most expenses covered, hanging out with friends and taking classes that interested him. Trust me, this first-blush response to college life did not last. Some classes became tedious or challenging. The food was plentiful but did not always suit. The roommate could be annoying. But, he got me thinking that evening that I could really get interested in and take enjoyment from returning to life on campus.

Tell me–who would appreciate this opportunity more? An 18-year-old kid, or a middle-aged, work-weary (no complaints–but, hey, I just completed my 40th year of full-time employment), under-stimulated/information over-loaded, but still ready to learn more, mature adult?

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2 Responses to College Is Wasted on the Young

  1. Gilda says:

    I agree totally. We should start our own college. I vote for the state of Maine–mid-coast.
    Very entertaining post–kudos!

  2. Vicky Cairns says:

    How true. how true!!!

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