The last couple of days, I’ve been exploring why some teenagers can’t emotionally handle their freshman year in college while other students behave worse than toddlers. Here are the posts:
I was ready to move on to other topics – some parents have been asking questions about the FAFSA – — but I decided to linger one more day on this important topic because of a note that I received last night from a woman who has spent more than two decades working with college students.
I think you’ll find her observations fascinating yet sobering. And some parents don’t come off looking good either – they are enabling a lot of this inexcusable behavior. Next week, I promise I’ll tackle the FAFSA and other topics.
An Insider’s Take on Bad Behavior
I spent 25 years working as a student affairs administrator at six different colleges, and was the director of residential life at two. I did my master’s thesis on college roommate compatibility. Sadly, this is an issue that is rampant at colleges across the country, and across the different strata of colleges–elite to open admission. My daughter experienced similar at a small Roman Catholic college.
Without writing a thesis here (which I could), I believe this stems from a convergence of two trends:
First, students go off to college having had unprecedented luxuries growing up. They have never shared a bedroom. Many have never even shared a bathroom. They have their own cars, their own phones, their own credit cards, and have been given a great deal of personal freedom while still in high school. Their parents have leveraged their own lives to provide the financial support such that students have little concern for the price of attending college.
Transitioning to a largely unsupervised residence hall just kick starts their desire to live a life like they have seen on MTV and in the popular media. And although their college may have asked them questions about their lifestyles to encourage roommate compatibility, too often, their parents filled out the questionnaire, or the student was afraid to be honest (“I smoke weed, I drink four nights a week, and my partner and I have been intimate since we were 15”) for fear their parents will see the questionnaire.
Colleges, in their quest to recruit students, provide accommodations and amenities that are more like cruise ships. Free high speed internet, free laundry equipment, 24-hour a day food service catered to each student’s whim, free health club, free 24-hour a day medical care, free counseling services, free tutoring, non-stop activities, parties, movies, clubs. They have private rooms in suites with living rooms and kitchenettes and free cable TV.
What’s Wrong With the Parents
Legal restraints and a fear of losing enrollment have made colleges unwilling to impose strict discipline or oversight. Many parents don’t make it any easier by refusing to allow students to take responsibility for their behavior, calling constantly to intervene or plead for special consideration. I was even offered bribes to “overlook” issues, but more often I was threatened with lawyers.
What will it take to change this? A fundamental shift in how we view college from a time of extended adolescence to a time for learning real-life skills for careers and adulthood. Instead, they graduate, deeply in debt, and wondering why they can’t find a job that will pay enough for them to be able to afford a private apartment, internet, health club, vacations, health insurance, and a housekeeping staff to clean up the vomit in the bathroom every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night.
What Do You Think?
As always, please weigh in with your comments at the bottom! I’d love to hear what you think.
My Upcoming College Workshop:
I will be holding two college workshops at the University of California, San Diego on Jan. 28 and Feb. 4. At the workshops — you can sign up for one or both – I aim to share with you ways to help you make smart decisions about picking colleges and making them more affordable.
Thanks. Lynn O.