Tag Archives: Higher education

Back to School 2016: The Road Trip

keep calm and get backNo reason to keep denying it; Summer’s all but over and the back-to-school season is upon us. For the Parent Imperfect, this week is all about that transition and the mixed emotions that go with it. It all starts a little earlier once they finish high school. On Monday, Vince and I loaded his stuff into the car and headed to the Finger Lakes region for Year Two. It was to have been an end-of-the-summer road trip for the entire family, but Ms. Connie wasn’t having it. I drew the traveling straw.

Mountain shotSince it takes longer to get to Ithaca than it takes to get to San Francisco, Vince had lots of time for a pensive transition back to college life. The ride through western Mass and upstate New York was gorgeous, reminding me of how little time I spend in Vermont these days. After living intensely with a group of IC people for all of freshman year, he didn’t see any of them over the summer. He has a new roommate this year and the young woman with whom he spent a lot of the spring semester transferred to Syracuse. There was a lot on that mind surrounded by the headphones, and the Parent Imperfect was much more chauffeur than confidant. Vince needed the 6+ hours to get back into an Ithaca frame of mind.

He was actually scheduled to go back to school two weeks early to train with the rugby team, but he decided that his knee couldn’t take another year of that sport. I think  he was also quite enjoying himself in Boston, and didn’t look forward to spending the last two weeks of summer grunting and hurting in Ithaca. Summer was to have been a time of rehab for his MCL injury (not a tear), but, instead, he spent the summer lugging around other people’s furniture, which was anything but rehab for the knee. He’ll have moments of regret about that decision in the coming weeks, as rugby was a big part of becoming part of the college community last year.

I want my future backWe remain, as always, on a “need to know” basis with Vince, but from what we could tell the first year at college seemed to be a year of growth for him. He points to last January, when he worked for a month at the moving company with men in their 40s and 50s who make an uninsured living for their families (sort of) by moving heavy things from place to place. Many of them walk like his father walks, even though they are twenty years my junior. No other students, just Vince and perfectly intelligent guys of various races who’ve ended up on the wrong side of the rigged economy. I’m not sure what he learned from that, but something clicked.

I’m sure he was still being a full-on college boy when he went back to school, but he did well enough in his classes to get into Ithaca’s much-respected communications school for Year Two. They had passed on him when he applied as a first-year student.

Ithaca viewHe was visibly excited to get back to Ithaca, although he has also become aware that going to school there is costing money that other good schools wouldn’t necessarily cost. From the beginning, he had a sense of the privilege in that, but he didn’t always understand the cost of it in the same way.

He will not stay up at night worrying about this, but he knows it in a way that he didn’t, even last year. He says that he is exploring transferring in January. We’ll see. I feel the pain about the money, but, if he has found a passion at Ithaca it would be a shame to let it go for the unknown at another place.

It was great to have him here over the summer, but he now lives on South Street as a matter of convenience (for him). In essence, he treated the place like a flop-house over the summer. Who would turn down a flop house with food in the refrigerator? I remember the days when life was so much more fun in the 1-4AM period, but that doesn’t mean I necessarily want to live with someone who is living that dream. Then, when one of the parents (or the sister) was reaching a limit, he would be home for dinner for a couple of nights, make the time to go visit his grandparents, or spend an evening on the couch talking about the Republican convention or the problems with Bernie’s campaign.

After too many hours in the car, we rolled up to the beautiful dormitory  where he’ll spend the next few months. The move did not have that high energy of excitement and nervous anticipation that we all felt a year ago. This was more lugging his stuff up the back stairs into a room that his definitely a step up from the freshman digs. He was happy to have the help moving in, but then it was time to go. His roommate and friends were nowhere to be seen, forewarned via social media of my arrival. I barely had time to deliver my predictable departure speech, which he probably could have delivered, himself. His phone was buzzing with things to be done as soon as he could get rid of the rest of the family unit.

Much more quickly than I came, I was gone. And now, on South Street we are three…



Filed under Higher Ed, Just Parenting

On the College Bubble, #1

ChoosingThe Parent Imperfect is certainly in some sort of denial. While I am quite focused on the fate of the Cape Verdean bilingual program at the Dearborn School, the clock is ticking toward a very intense period Vince’s life. He is about to enter his senior year at the nation’s oldest public high school. Not only will this be the final chapter in the struggle to help him and the rest of us get through the BLS experience: During fall 2014, Vince and his entourage must do a lot of work and make some important decisions about what happens next.

Since early this year, Vince has been visiting a few colleges in the Boston area. The whole thing has slowly become more real for him (and his parents) and he has begun to think more seriously about what sort of school he’d like to attend. The assumption at BLS is that every student at the school will attend some sort of a four-year college, and the school provides lots of support to students making that decision. There is less support, social, psychological, etc. for anyone interested in making a different decision.

With the support for college choice, comes no small amount of social pressure to take the next step. I’m not sure that Vince’s immediate or natural reaction to his experience at BLS would be to sign up for four more years of school. It’s very much like that moment when he suddenly realized there were exam schools, and he quickly got caught up in the rush to get in. No one wants to be the only one in their group of friends who is not going off to college next year. Everyone close to Vince is very engaged with this same process, and many of them are quite likely to get into and attend elite schools. This is an anxious way to start my Sunday morning. What must it be for Vince?

Student Loan DebtIf I really want to get nauseous, I can think about the financial aspects of these coming decisions. Every year about this time, a new set of studies and articles spinning the data in the studies appears in the press saying that, as expensive as education has become, a college degree is still a very good deal. Education debt, now more that $1 trillion, is definitely the new financial bubble, and the job market for today’s college grads is not great. The percentage of high school grads going on to college has declined sharply during in the aftermath of the financial collapse of the last decade. Even so, as inequality has worsened in the country, the gap between the earnings of people with a degree and without one continues to grow. Very soon, the lifetime earnings of degree holders will be more than double that of their peers who didn’t get the degree. One analyst points to this data and suggests that not getting a degree is one of the most expensive things that anyone can do in this year when we will face this decision.

Is that what matters to me/us…Vince’s lifetime earnings? Do I, the man who was earning 9K per year (while in El Salvador) when I turned 40, want to go deep in debt so that my son will have higher lifetime earnings? And what about that part of me who thinks that, during Vince’s lifetime, climate change is going to change everything in a way that even the lefties looking at these earnings numbers can’t begin to predict?  If that doesn’t make me look beyond the Times (New York, that is), then there’s the fact that I spend my working days with a bunch of very smart (not to say, brilliant) students who are in the process of spending 150K for a law degree that has less than a 50% chance of landing them a job in their chosen field.

social changeWhat matters to me is not Vince’s lifetime earnings, but whether or not he finds something to do that he’s passionate about and will allow him to make a positive difference in the world. If I said that to him, which I will do AGAIN at some point soon, he would smile knowingly at me, and probably shake his head. I can hear my father saying, “All right, save the spiritual reading…” Most times, Vince would bite his tongue and not respond, but, if he was having a day in which his frustration level was higher than usual, he’d say something like, “Yeah, Dad, I know that’s what matters to you, but it’s my life, isn’t it?”

College BubbleFor now, it’s our lives. What happens over the next few months will affect how all of us live, including Connie, who enters eighth grade as Vince enters twelfth. She’ll, once again, be struggling for a little attention as the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Regardless of climate change, my dreams about a life mission to change the world or the data from the Economic Policy Institute, when Vince walks into school in September, everyone who really matters is going to be talking about where they want to go to school, not whether or not a four-year college makes sense. To the extent that he receives guidance, that guidance will be all about the college choice.

Time to get out of denial and ready for life on the bubble…


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The Next Bubble

A mathematics lecture, apparently about linear...

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Being the parent of a student at the nation’s oldest public school awards the Parent Imperfect with access to “The Village,” an e-mail list-serv for the school community. The PI can’t stop spouting about all the strange things the list reveals about this community, but that doesn’t keep him from reading every announcement of a new item in the school store. That he spends time doing this (and writing in blogs) while ignoring other things screaming at him from the “To Do” list is worthy of reflection.

When the list hasn’t been debating the quality of teaching at the school or serving as a parent textbook exchange, it has been reflecting on the decreasing “value” of a college education. This conversation strikes a chord because some students are at the school because their parents (and themselves, in some cases) feel that enduring the barbs of life at the school puts them on a path to an elite higher education with all of the choices that implies (it’s “free,” to boot). For some percentage of families at the school, it has served for centuries as a door to social mobility or a means of retaining an elite position in Boston’s very class (and race) conscious society. A teacher at the school who fashions himself “The Village Idiot” has shared a couple of provocative articles that suggest that elite higher education is no longer the near guarantee of future “success” that it once was. Some say it’s not even very good education.

This is where the PI launches into the big, “Gone are the days…,” speech about the impact of the long-term decline of the U.S. He’s convinced that many of Vince’s generation will have a difficult time reaching the economic position of their parents (not a really high bar for Vince). The old sheepskin probably still “pays off,” but only because the country’s decline impacts, even more directly, people who don’t go to college. If the boy ends up going to an exclusive private school, it won’t be because the PI has been consciously moving things in that direction from behind the scenes. So…if it wasn’t part of a strategy to help Vince get into a “good” university and then get a “good” job, then why did the PI help V. move toward an institution that doesn’t particularly play to his strengths? Don’t ask, don’t tell.

When asked why he is at the nation’s oldest public school, Vince always says, “Because my friends go there.” Maybe, but when he entered the school, he knew about 1% of his entering class and less of the rest of the school. He likes the school’s Darwinian social environment, and seems to enjoy some of his classes. Facebook allows at least the semblance of a sense of community. But he has also come to sense that going to this school carries with it a certain status with some people in the community, and he likes that status. His demeanor is very different when he uses the name of a classical (not to say, “dead’) language to respond to questions about where he goes to school than when he used to say, “the Hernández.”  This can be, of course, the beginning of the formation of an elite sensibility, and the PI would never want that, would he?

That brings us back to the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” question. We’ll let the PI off with that for now, but he’s not heard the end of this.

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