August 27th, 2009

College for the First Time


On the road again this week, I was listening to a talk show in which callers were invited to talk about taking their kids to college for the first time. Having never done this myself, it does sound like an emotional letting-go moment. But what impressed me even more were the high expectations these parents have for college experiences. Yes, most of them did mention hopes that their child would fit in, find friends, and have as one mom described it, “a wholesome social life.” Also true, most of them did mention career goals—the hope that college will prepare students for professions that pay well and for professions where there will be jobs. All that I expected.

What I didn’t expect to hear were the more lofty goals—I was driving so these are paraphrased versions of what I heard. One father said his son was smart but hadn’t yet applied himself in school—he said he hoped professors pushed his kid hard. It wouldn’t hurt at all if his kid (his term) got a C or something lower during the first couple of weeks of classes. Another parent (hardly typically, I’m sure) said she didn’t care all that much about the grades. She wanted her daughter to learn more than just the content. She hoped her daughter would learn about life and the world. She wanted her daughter’s mind filled with “good stuff” to think about. Still another talked about all the opportunities that are a part of the college experience and how she hoped someone would encourage her child to take advantage of these.

But probably the most poignant comments came from a student who said she was an adult and was taking herself back to college. She’d dropped out years before but was now returning and enrolling in a professional program. The classes were pretty cut and dried, she said, but still she hoped there would be at least some time during the program to explore something totally new. “I’d love to take a course in something I can’t imagine taking a course in. Isn’t that what college is really about?” She described colleges as “knowledge capitals” and said it was a chance of a lifetime to get to live in one.

All this month I’ve speaking with faculty getting ready to start a new academic year. Their comments have been about how fast the summer went by, how they didn’t get as much work done as they should have, and how they aren’t yet ready for classes to begin. We all have those feelings. But along with them, we also need to find our great expectations for the coming year. It is full of possibilities and potential.