College marketing: The wooing of me
Published in the opinion page, as a member of the Community Advisory Board of the Holland Sentinel, the newspaper of Holland Sentinel.
I am an intelligent person. And I like to eat. My counselors, teachers, friends and neighbors therefore told me I should go to college. I decided I would.
Colleges seemed to like that. Every day for three years I received fliers and letters and viewbooks and packages, some personalized with my very own name, all packed with the greatest of compliments — for themselves and for me. My favorite read simply: “Dominic, It’s entirely possible that you are the brightest student ever. The Ohio State University just might be the finest institution of higher education on the planet. Seems we should learn more about each other.” Who knew I was so popular?
My parents also took interest in my college search. “You’re applying to a school?” muttered my father when I requested his signature for a form. He scribbled across the dotted line. “I hope it’s a cheap one.” He returned to his work.
To be sure, some colleges did boast about their financial aid, but there still seemed a lot for which to pay. The higher-education consulting firm Noel-Levitz calculates that last year, colleges spent a median $2,185 trumpeting themselves for every student successfully recruited — to say nothing of the arms race underlying these efforts.
In addition to stuff like dorms and professors, campuses wooed me with an array of facilities and services veritably socialist in their extent. A free-for-all of art museums, Olympic-sized pools, midnight security escorts, cafeterias that served custom-cooked steak every
single day, and other enticements would be free for all, they announced, provided of course that “all” paid their tuition.
And what a tuition it has become: Inflating at a national rate of 4.9 percent this school year, tuition made price hikes in transportation, food and health care appear downright lame.
Not to worry though. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the last four years have seen the unemployment rate of recent college graduates’ increase only twice as much as the unemployment rate of the general population.
I guess that means college will be a respite, a “calm before the storm” of post-graduation joblessness.
At least my college buddies and I will be well prepared for free time. Professors at the University of California Santa Barbara and the University of California Riverside find that that we’ll study a pleasant 14 hours per week, far less than the 24 hours per week students put in in 1961. High school, after all, has prepared us as such: The Cooperative Institutional Research Program says that in 2009, two-thirds of incoming college freshmen hadn’t studied an hour a day in high school — a proportion far greater than the one found in 1987.
I might therefore chastise lazy seniors like self were their K-12 schools such an easier target. School districts, you see, have followed colleges’ frivolity with such bloat as tightened schedules, slimmed standards, and teachers starving to be paid as professionals. (Who do they think they are, bankers?)
Meanwhile, analysis of more than 200,000 entering college students in the book “Crossing the Finish Line” shows that more than test scores, demographics or any other factor, high school grades predict college success. Regardless, the group Strong American Schools reports that four in five of us college-bound students with GPAs exceeding 3.0 will have to relearn material we should have learned in high school, increasing the likelihood that we drop out in frustration.
All of which is to say that maybe — just maybe — we should pause to solidify K-12 education before glamorizing the college experience, whose ultimate usefulness looks increasingly tarnished. After all, the only thing an unemployable college graduate has that an unemployable high school [student] hasn’t is, on average, $17,000 in student loan debt.
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