This past weekend, we took Daughter #1 (along with younger sister) on our first “official college visit” as a family. Daughter 1 had already been on another, with her aunt, but this was the first “taking a child to see a college in which they’re interested” for the rest of us. I thought I would feel really old, but at first it didn’t seem like that—a lot of things brought back memories of our own college days for Andy and me and it really did seem like it was yesterday. It was fun remembering and answering the questions both girls peppered us with as we walked from point to point on our group tour. But we were reminded several times that it really wasn’t yesterday, and I’m surprised the girls would even consider us as a source of reliable college information.
For example, when Daughter #2 asked me, “What do students do about having a TV?” I said, “Well, most students don’t bring a TV because there’s not room for one in their dorm room, and if they do bring one, they have to use a “rabbit ears” antenna, like I had to do, because there are no cable hookups.” Wrong-o. A few minutes later, she pointed to a line in a brochure – cable TV hookups in every room. I should have known. And those dorm residents probably bring hi-def flat screen versions with a Blu-ray player to boot. I mean, a lot has changed in 30 years. (Dang, has it been that long??) Laptops are an essential school supply of today’s college student and WiFi is everywhere. Some textbooks are “downloadable”. The cafeteria has a “vegan bar”. The students use pre-loaded money cards to pay for laundry (no fishing for quarters—imagine!) and they do not have to share a bathroom with a dozen or more of their peers. Some dorm rooms even had kitchenettes! And (shock) they ALL had carpet!
But even though I ended up feeling like a dinosaur, the tour was still enjoyable. I love seeing the “mini-world”, the self-contained “bubble”, created by a college campus. The on-campus stores; the hidden bowling alleys, the bulletin boards everywhere listing nonstop concerts, lectures, and midnight movies; the green spaces, chapels, and monuments; the study lounges, rec centers, coffee shops, and cafeterias; the library, career center and clinic. I love thinking about all the possibilities and pathways that can be explored while there. And I remember how excited I was to be a part of it long ago.
True, people can debate the merits of a college degree. Some of our most successful business leaders in America had little to no college. But there’s something about college life that to me is nothing but positives. Even working at a college is energizing—I once worked at a community college for nine years and found it to be a fantastic work environment. There was always something going on to feed your brain, your body or your soul, from fashion shows from the clothing design students to six-course lunches and dinners prepared by our chef students to even theater productions that anyone, even non-students, could try out for. (I finally did once, and got a pretty good part!)
Even if someone never attends college and/or never works at one, if they simply live and work in a “college town”– I wonder if they enjoy the proximity to higher learning. Surely they do. In an article by Nancy Smith of CBS MoneyWatch last week called “The Ten Best Places to Retire”, seven of the ten were college towns. “Retired Americans are flocking to the culture and arts scenes and state-of-the-art medical facilities offered by college campuses,” stated The Huffington Post in Dec. 2011. And college campuses are reaching out to better include the older crowd, according to a report by the Associated Press.
I sure hope my kids get to experience college life someday. And I think I want to go back for seconds.