Tag Archives: college

When You Realize Your College is a TV Sitcom

When I was a kid there were television shows that portrayed college. They were bright, shiny, and had laugh tracks. Where I came from college was just part of growing up, it was a natural next step. So it made sense that Denise from the Cosby show went off to college after high school, it was natural that the kids from Saved by the Bell would all do the same, and thanks to a lack of cable- I watched both those shows. Being a teenage heterosexual white male meant I felt myself expert in pretty much everything, and as I watched those shows with my finely tuned critical thinking mind, I knew that what I was watching, was ridiculous.Image result for A Different World

I saw students living in dorms where professors and influential alumni frequently engaged in teaching moments punctuated by one-liners and every now and then, there would be a song and dance number that was supposed to somehow appear normal. I always chalked it up to lack of casting budget when the school’s quarterback would also star in the school play with a confused pre-med major doing everything she could to impress the dean. I knew college wasn’t really like that.Image result for saved by the bell college years

I knew this because my parents had both graduated college, so had all the parents of my friends. So I was confident in knowing that above all else college was: harder than high school, expensive, and that athletes did not go to class let alone star in plays. Those shows with all that good natured life lesson fraternizing and goofy situations, were nothing more than B level showbiz lies.

Then came last week.

I work at a small liberal arts college in Southern California and we have a live bulldog as a mascot. His doghouse is a miniature version of the school’s main administration building, complete with Greek columns and terra cotta roof tiles. He was recently diagnosed with a terminal illness and so just last week, the president of the university, the provost, and hundreds of students and administrators all gathered in the amphitheater to watch the bulldog, dressed in cap and gown, receive his diploma and be sincerely praised over the podium while everyone cheered. We graduated the dog.Image result for thurber graduates

It was surreal. It was almost as if Freddy from a Different World, the bi-racial adopter of whatever social movement was in vogue, the meddler attempting to solve a roommate’s generational family drama, the silly one, had taken it upon herself to honor the ailing symbol of our school’s pride. Except Freddy is fictional and I was there in real life.Image result for freddie different world

This alone would have just been cute, but two weeks before that was homecoming. A few hours before the big homecoming football game I sat in the memorial chapel and watched as the music majors played polka music and a crowd of students and professors danced on stage in lederhosen singing a song about study abroad in Vienna. After that number was over the president of the university did an actual song and dance to introduce an alumni, whose name is on several of our buildings, who then came up on stage and announced a fund raising campaign. It was almost as if Zack Morris had gotten Mr. Belding to participate in a half-baked scheme to save the library. Except Zack isn’t real and the tubas in that chapel definitely were.Image result for redlands forever yours

It made me question my entire upbringing.

All this time I thought those shows were not only fake but ridiculously preposterous. I thought college kids, including myself when I was one, were mostly cynical and isolated. I recall being an undergrad not knowing the name of any adult on campus who wasn’t my professor, and absolutely none of those professors knew me. I remember college being just like my teachers and parents had told me; harder than high school, expensive, and mostly about football games. Fraternities were not inclusive bands of brothers but rather exclusionary bastions of alcoholism and sexual abuse. I found my place on the rugby team but no one ever came to watch our games. We had to pitch in to buy our own uniforms and the administration was always reluctant to let us use the field. I regularly had to skip important games because my part time job had inflexible hours.

There is a useful lesson here. Almost the kind of lesson a wise old cafeteria cook would teach a disappointed freshman after failing a test. The lesson is that college can be exactly like I thought it would be, or, to my surprise, it could be exactly like TV. Both exist. Both are right, or depending on where you end up, either could be wrong. But I didn’t learn this lesson till long into adulthood and I mostly learned it by mistake. Over the years I have traveled across America and visited hundreds of college campuses. I have studied college types, different educational models, and counseled hundreds of aspiring college students. And what I tell those kids, and as often as possible try to tell their parents, is that college isn’t one thing. It can be all sorts of different things. Sometimes it is like Hillman College with singing and dancing pre-med majors, and at other times it is State University with power forwards courting the NBA. It isn’t really about which one is or isn’t real, it is more about what sort of experience you want to have. What is even more relevant is that all of these different types of experiences lead to different results depending on what kind of kid you are. These experiences vary so much, that when thinking about college it makes sense to ignore the question, or even more, ignore the advice of others, regarding what college is like, but rather consider more the qualities and needs of the kid in question.

But so many of the people I know don’t do this. Not only don’t they do this, but they ignore me, and others like me, when we give advice about what college can be (see what I did there?). Most people prefer their personal anecdotes and experiences and then pass those along to the next generation as universal truth. We all think we know best because we were there. And sure, you were in fact there, but you weren’t everywhere. You can surely say how it was for you, at that place, in that time, but that is all you can say. Because everywhere, and everyone, are not all the same. And because not every person is the same, if we want each person to grow and thrive, we should start by realizing that maybe not everyone should go to the same place we did or do the same things. Maybe, if we didn’t like our college experience, it shouldn’t cause us to condemn the whole concept of college, but rather it is possible we weren’t well matched to our institution. Or, then again if we loved college, we may need to consider the idea that our school might not be best for everyone else.

I think most of us get this, but only when it comes to rooting interests or US News & World Report rankings. When thinking of colleges outside our own experience we think good better best, as in who is ranked higher or who won which bowl. That isn’t what I mean.

What I mean is that at some places you are 1 of 100,000 other fans in the Rose Bowl, and at others you do song and dance numbers with the provost.

I still can’t believe we graduated the dog.

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Coit Tower: what I imagine an actual ivory tower would look like

I work in an ivory tower, but I’m kind of like the door man there, not the sage- or the king, or a princess. But I’m okay with this. Well… I’m mostly okay with it.img_1733

You see the problem with staying in ivory towers is that you can get lost and isolated up in the clouds. Clouds aren’t quite the same as the ground. On the ground, a person can just sort of stand there, naturally. Clouds are immaterial, and for a human to be there requires some sort of extra construction or apparatus to hold them up.img_1748

Its good to work at the door of the tower because you can walk around and remember what dirt feels like and how plants grow. From up above trees look small and while you might be able to see over walls, it gets easy to forget how hard it is to climb either one.img_1907

But if you spend all of your time in the weeds you never get to see more than a few feet. It can be hard to come up with new ideas, or to even really see what is going on, with limited vision.img_1910

So with my role in the tower, standing on the ground floor showing people the door, I get a little bit of both the up and the down. I head upstairs and see what they are doing up there, then I go back outside and try to tell people about it. Its good work.img_1825

Truth be told I would probably enjoy more time in the books. I like the stuff in books and I like the view. But in my mind the stuff in and up there are pointless unless it does something down and out there, and I have been out there enough to know that the gap between in and up and down and out is huge.img_1816I hear and read a lot of things about the environment in college, but few of those opinions or descriptions are coming from people who work in college. Or are currently attending college. Sometimes it comes from people who remember college. People in the weeds are talking about the tower.

Then I talk to, or read the work of, people in the tower, and to them the people in the weeds are a “them.” A them is very different than a we. Making the we bigger than it is now is a big deal to me.

The best thing for we requires both the tower and the weeds.

So I’ll stick with my job.

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Cost of College When Converted to Minimum Wage Hours

Because I had some extra time on a Sunday afternoon, I thought I would take the time to convert the cost of college into minimum wage hours. I may need to reevaluate how I spend my free time.

The current federally mandated minimum wage is $7.25.

The current average in-state tuition at a public university is $9,410. That figures out to 1,297 hours of work.statue main building

Just for fun, and perspective, the minimum wage and average tuition in 1970 was $1.60 and $358 respectively. That represents a 481% increase in minimum wage hours.

But that is just tuition. People also need to sleep and eat, which costs more money, especially if you intend to sleep indoors. To pay the average room, board, AND the average tuition, a minimum wage worker must put in 40 hours per week- for 15 months.

College accreditation boards assume (dictate) that a full time college student will spend between 24-36 hours per week in class or studying. The variance is due to the variations in class content and student aptitude. Let’s call it 30 hours for simplicity.

40 hours working, plus 30 hours schooling, leaves 98 hours per week to also fit in 56 hours of sleeping, giving a student 6 hours per day left over. How luxurious. Anyone can do that right?

Perhaps one can. It would be hard of course, but anything worth doing is hard right?

Maybe those extra six hours a day are necessary for beer-pong and protesting things. Or maybe they are needed to work out ways to find a minimum wage job that will schedule you for 40 hours per week, which doesn’t happen because that’s full time and requires benefits, so probably the student needs two part time jobs that will each schedule out 20 hours a week. If they are both on campus this could work, cut down on travel time and whatnot, but if not this kid will need to schedule in some travel time. On a bus. Because I forgot to figure in the expenses associated with a car. Or laundry. I’m going to pretend this is a pretty responsible student and assume they cut out beer-pong.

The math proves it can be done- at least in a perfect vacuum without unexpected expenses or buying toiletries- or income taxes.toepenn

But… and of course there is a but…

This student will not be able to do an internship, play any sports or join any clubs. This student will have to go to class, study, and work, forget playing around. No high jinks or animal house ballyhoo, which sounds like the no nonsense real life dictates any responsible parent would tell their child. Especially if that parent is doling out advice with the wisdom of their own experience from back in 1970.

Which makes me a little sad and terrified.

Sad because things are indeed different now, but also terrified because college’s usefulness is really in all those things outside the classroom. Doing good in class puts a lot of stuff inside your head but it doesn’t put your butt into a job. Most of the things that lead to jobs, like relationship networks, internships, experiences, and interviews, all happen after hours.

That isn’t even considering the things that lead to actual learning and thinking, like study abroad, field work, and participation in diverse experiential activities. This minimum wage working, public school going, student will be working very hard to get the bare minimum of what colleges offer and is very likely going to get some negative feedback from Mom and Dad when they ask for extra money or bring home loads of extra laundry and this student will probably get a lecture about how it was back in the old days and how kids didn’t complain and they did it themselves so quit being a complainey little snowflake.

So, dear snowflake, let me help you a little. What follows is not science, nor does it consider things like taxes and interest, but it gives you a thumbnail of how now compares to then in the spirit of making apples versus oranges more into apples versus crab apples.

Average 1970

Salary- $6,186= $515.50 per month no taxes

Cost of home- $23,600/3 years salary/$65.50 per month for 30 years no interest

New car $3,542/$59 per month for 5 years no interest

Healthcare $380 per year= $31 per month

Monthly budget

Rent $65.50 + Car $59 + Ins $31 = $155.50 or 30.16% of income

Minimum wage- $1.60

Tuition at local state U- $358= 223 hours minimum wage work

 

Average 2017

Salary- $51,939= $4,328.25 no taxes

Cost of home- $292,891/5 year salary/$813 per month for 30 years no interest

New car- $30, 152/$502 per month for 5 years no interest

Healthcare $9,810= $817 per month

Rent $813 + Car $502 + Health $817 = $2132 or 49.25% of income

Minimum wage- $7.25

Tuition at local state U- $9410= 1297 hours minimum wage work

College is 481% more expensive today when converted to minimum wage hours.

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Legacy Admissions: a handout to the already haves.

Legacy admissions are not a leg up, they are a hand out to the already haves.

Data shows that the number one predictor of the likely education level a child will receive is the level of education the parents have already attained. This is not due to some sort of amniotic intelligence transfer but rather the tendency of most teachers (parents) to teach others, to simply do what they did.IMG_9436

People who have gone to elite colleges are more likely to know the application process, understand the school’s expectations, and better yet, they often know the people making the admissions decisions.IMG_9508

If you look at those who attend elite schools you will find that most of them had parents who went to elite schools, or at least good schools, and as one might guess, these parents also have a good amount of money. Whether the schooling or the money came first doesn’t really matter, but there is surely a solid correlation. In addition, you will find that most of those who are accepted into elite schools had tutors and took test prep classes during grade and high school. These kids being tutored are the A students, not the ones at risk of athletic ineligibility. On top of that, you will also find that most who gain entry into elite colleges attended high schools that have previously sent other students to elite colleges. Turns out that following well-traveled paths is more likely to get you there than forging new trails.

There are few, if any, immaculately conceived scholars who rise from nowhere with potential so obvious that Harvard can see it.crew guys

Most people who haven’t been to Harvard don’t know many others who have. Most who never attended Princeton, don’t really know what Princeton is looking for in an applicant. Most at mediocre high schools, are unaware that most at great high schools are taking extra SAT prep classes. Some, who never went to Yale but still managed to accumulate wealth, spend some of that wealth to send their kids to schools where the children of Yale grads go.IMG_9500

That is how people get in.

If you want to investigate potential unfairness in admissions to elite schools, maybe we should look first, I repeat first (not as an afterthought), at the practice of giving preference to those who are already advantaged in the application process.

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College Admissions: how it works

In light of the Department of Justice’s announced intentions to investigate colleges that enact affirmative action policies in admissions decisions, it might be helpful for the public (and the Whitehouse) to understand a few things about college admissions.

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First, you need to know that college admissions is not like the NBA draft. Schools do not collect a pile of applicants and then rank them all starting at their number one draft pick and then start moving their way down the board until they run out of spots. It does not, nor has it ever, worked that way.

While most all colleges are a little different and policies and ideologies vary, the basic standard is that rather than starting at a ranking and working their way down, what admissions boards do is start by setting a floor, or basic cutoff at the bottom, below which the school doubts the applicant’s ability to handle the course of study. This normally consists of a minimum GPA or SAT/ACT score. Once the minimum is set, everyone above that cutoff is “qualified” and fair game for admission. Past that, whatever policy, practice, or magical spell the school wishes to employ to fill up their freshman class, is up to them.

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This gets tricky when the school has more qualified applicants than openings, or in some cases, more openings than qualified applicants. In both cases, there are fights, arguments, exceptions, and shenanigans all around in every direction. But however these dust ups get settled, and in all cases, what you need to know is that there are no draft style leader boards with applicants ranked 1-2,000 and consequentially it is impossible for one applicant to take another “more qualified” applicant’s spot.

Why this is important to know, is to help you avoid the mistake of thinking that there are regular, or even rare, scenarios where candidate A loses their spot to a less qualified candidate B. This does not happen because, in almost all cases, the only students being reviewed are above the predetermined floor and consequentially they are all “qualified”, and if they are all qualified, it is up to the committee to decide who they want to let in, or who is “most” qualified. Consequentially, determining who is more qualified than another is so subjective that it is impossible for you, or I, or anyone outside of that closed-door room, to be able to make that determination. Some schools (public) decide that within the pool of qualified applicants they will privilege kids from in-state. Some (private) may decide they want a sampling of students from all over the globe. Some schools work hard to recruit students to specific programs, like math or science, others may value racial and ethnic representation and the experience diversity brings to a campus, but in all cases, remember that the admissions committees are assembling these classes from a pool of candidates who have already been deemed qualified.

But of course there are always exceptions, or things that look like exceptions. Folk lore holds that these exceptions normally come in the cases of athletes and racial minorities. In addressing this lore, allow me to be a little crass for a moment.

What colleges care about most, are rankings and money. While rankings are nice for bragging rights, they are mostly relevant in how they can translate into more donations and applications, which ultimately means more money. So really, what colleges care about most, is just money.

If you have money, or the ability to bring in money, a college will let you in. Period. This is why the NCAA gets very finicky about minimum academic requirements. This independent third party has set some minimum academic standards for all schools to follow and then deems any applicants below those standards ineligible to play, and thereby unable to bring the college more money. So those kids don’t get in. This is also why some rankings, like US News & World Report, put certain metrics like graduation rates, incoming class GPA, and SAT scores, into their formula. If a college compromises on their admission standards, they get a lower ranking. Colleges do not like to drop in rankings.stadium (2)

Please keep in mind that normally the NCAA minimum standard is way below the average college’s admissibility floor, and that the desirable US News reported averages are way above the normal college’s admissibility floor. With this in mind, when and why would a college violate its own standards to let in an unqualified or less qualified student?

For money.

The two biggest, or most frequent, instances of compromised college standards are for athletes and legacies. Most Americans are familiar with the reasoning of the athlete exception, you might even be able to name their names, but in case you are less familiar with what a legacy is, this is an applicant who is the child of an alum. Legacies get preference because they are more likely to not only translate into future tuition dollars via children and grandchildren, but they are more likely to become donors. Every University and college wants to become a part of your family. More specifically, they want to become that charming, lovable, member of your family that shows up to every family function, but is probably broke and will definitely pull you into a side room and ask for a small loan. This family member will let Junior in, despite Junior’s C- average. Colleges will take Junior because he brings along extra money.

Racial minorities do not naturally bring along extra money. Diversity is indeed a metric considered in most rankings, but it is only one of many and henceforth far outweighed by GPAs and SATs. Because of this, colleges are not likely to let in any applicant who is below their admissibility floor simply because they are a minority… unless they have money.

So to review, let us say the floor is a 3.5 GPA and the college in question only has one spot left.

Scenario 1: Applicant A is a white male with a 3.4 and applicant B is a black female with a 3.4 and a very sad story. Neither are admissible, neither get in.

Scenario 2: Applicant A is a white male with a 3.6 and Applicant B is a black female with a 3.5 and no sad story. Both are admissible, I probably take B.

Scenario 3: Applicant A is a white male with a 1.7 and a huge trust fund and applicant B is a black female with a 3.9 who conquered poverty to get a great SAT score. A gets in.

Scenario 4: Applicant A is a white male with a 3.9 and great SAT while Applicant B is a black female with a 3.6 and a moderate SAT. A gets in.

One last scenario just to make a point: Applicant A is a white male with a 1.7 and a rich alum parent and Applicant B is a black male who runs the 40 in 4 seconds flat and can bench press 400 pounds. A gets in.

A gets in because A already has money and B might break his leg.

College admissions is a high stakes, high stress, poker game for sure, but let one thing be clear. If you are a qualified candidate, you will not lose your spot to an unqualified competitor simply because they aren’t white.

Unless they are rich.

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the USC in California

The University of Southern California is not in South Carolina. You would think this goes without saying but some people need to hear it. They are known as the Trojans, they have almost 40,000 students, and every year the school receives more donations than almost any other university. They need those donations because while New York is the old world of inherited position, Los Angeles is the new world where nobodies just buy their way in, and USC is not just IN LA but in many ways IS LA.IMG_4586

I have been to more than 200 hundred American college campuses and nowhere have I been surrounded by so many kids who look like well-manicured super athletes. Remember that one sociology class you had sophomore year with all the football players? They would show up in sweat pants, unshaven, with bed head. At USC they arrive in crisp ironed t-shirts with tweezed eyebrows. These polished Adonises appear in white brown and black, male and female, with the only requirements being that they appear chiseled and leave behind first place trophies. There are so many trophies.IMG_4573

Winning is a big deal at USC.

At Harvard you can find a statue of John Harvard. At Penn you find a bronze Ben Franklin. At USC you find statues of a dog wearing a cap playing with a football, the 1969 defensive line nicknamed the Wild Bunch, a white horse named Traveler, several bronze Trojan warriors, actor Douglass Fairbanks, and six, count them six, Heisman trophies. There would be seven but Reggie Bush lost his due to NCAA violations. O.J. Simpson’s is still on display in the Hall of Champions.IMG_4683

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It Is Worth the Trouble: depending on how you measure it.

The first time I graduated I didn’t “walk”. I took my last final on a Friday and on Saturday morning I moved 5 states away. I stayed away for seven years. I was jaded and disgruntled and just wanted to get out and to be done. I wasn’t sure my degree was “worth it”.fromthestage

The second time I graduated I sat through two ceremonies, walked in one,  and I milked everything I could out of all of it. I wanted more. I loved it.IMG_9247

Now I have the opportunity to sit up on stage at graduation ceremonies every year and it gives me a moment to pause and reflect at the differences between my first and second ceremonies. Or rather, compare my attitude relating to the two educational experiences.

What I have learned from this reflection is at the heart of why I do my job.IMG_4375

What I learned is that I did it all wrong the first time. The worst part is that I didn’t know I had done it wrong till I did it the second time.

I had done it all wrong and because of that I didn’t think it had been worth it. I worked hard, and scrimped and scratched to pay for it, and I needed a degree to get a job, and sure I learned some stuff in there and I definitely needed a job, but in the end I felt spent and it was almost as if any real lessons I had learned were in spite of, rather than because of, school.IMG_7487

Then, thinking I was only pursuing career advancement in a trade school sort of way, I went to school again and it was as if fireworks, a choir of angels, and all the possible light bulbs surrounded me in glittering explosions of song and light.

I was risking more, spending ten times more, and it was the most wonderfully indulgent experience imaginable.

And because of it, I am happier every day after, than I was any day before.procession

That happiness is how I measure worth.

Education is worth it… when you do it right.

School is worth it.

Worth, all of it.

That is why I love my job. There are things about my job that are hard, that are drudgery, that frustrate me to no end, but I love it because I can feign some wisdom from what I have learned along the way and I can help others know how to do it right the first time.

You can do it right the first time.

Happy graduation season everyone!

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