Sunday, November 9, 2014

Sunday Salon: What's different about college these days?

I have been spending the past couple of weeks going on college visits with my oldest child. (Here's where I save you from having to offer me empty compliments: yes, I am in fact old enough to have a child going off to college next year--God willing and the creek don't rise--despite the almost sincere avowals about my youthfulness that courtesy requires.) In any case, going on college visits for your kid is sort of shocking, especially since I feel like I was just on my own college visits last week too. In the really long time blink of the eye since I was in the college choice process myself, things have changed a lot. Colleges have Starbucks and Burger King and the like on campus for their students' convenience. At many of them, there's no need for cash to pay for this stuff either; it all comes out of their meal plan dollars or the extra bucks that come with the meal plan. And let's talk about the regular old cafeteria, shall we? Holy cow! The choice and the appealing smells! This is not your mother's dining hall, kid. No college seems to charge kids for laundry anymore, which makes me wonder if I can pay a tuition bill with the rolls of quarters we'd been assembling in advance of sending our darling off into the big, bad, responsible world. Every campus seems to have game rooms and the like (often with state of the art electronics) in order to entice students in their free time.  Seriously, they beat the hell out of my basement, that's for sure.  A mom on yesterday's tour told me that one of the colleges she'd visited with her daughter included entertaining their students as one of the fundamental things with which they *must* provide the student body, ranking it up there with food, housing, and education. Every college we've visited yet this year has gifted my child with a t-shirt instead of making us fork over my money at the bookstore. And dorm rooms? Some of them, including those for freshmen, are nicer than our first apartment (not that my husband and I felt deprived in any way, mind you, because we lived in cubbyholes in college, not suites with full kitchens, private bedrooms, a common room, and a bathroom shared between a mere four people). Staggering, really.

But these are all fairly superficial differences designed to attract a very privileged generation, of which I am, admittedly, raising three members (although I've tried to hammer the entitlement out of them as best I can). The biggest difference I noticed though, the one that is more than icing on a cake, is at the campus libraries and the school bookstores. Several college visits in and I have to admit that when we walk into one or the other of these places, I still look to see the books. And I am saddened by the obvious, gaping lack. Sure, there are still some here and there. But more often the libraries are full of computers and study areas and only a few lonely looking stacks. The bookstores are overrun with sweatshirts, yoga pants, and blankets, with but a mere corner devoted to actual books. And their absence makes my heart bleed for all the improvements that are so conspicuously much more valued than books. I recognize that we're visiting at a time of year when kids aren't buying course texts and so that's to account for some of it, that the bookstores have sent back the unsold books from first semester to make room for the upcoming texts for second semester. And I know that much of the information we used to look up in the library stacks is now found digitally on the ever ubiquitous computers. But I do still mourn. (I could mourn a little less if someone, somewhere could see fit to give me the gift of a card catalog of my very own because that's another thing I desperately miss. I am deadly serious, but I do digress.) Walking around with my son and seeing the amazing things ahead of him next year, including the food options, game rooms, suite living, and more, I half wish I could go back to college again myself. But in the same moment, I am glad that my long past college experience had books spilling out of it at every turn, from the library to the bookstore to the bowed shelves in my small non-private dorm room. His experience will undoubtedly be very different than mine, not least because he will avoid the English department like the plague.  I have no worries that he'll get a good education, I wouldn't be writing tuitions checks if I did, but I am glad that if we isn't surrounded by books at school next year, he certainly will be whenever he comes home.  He might have all the fast food and video games he wants at school, but he'll always get a taste of old school books at my house.

I've mostly been sunk in light reads and romances this week, what with contemplating the imminence of the first fledgling leaving the nest and all. I explored Nepal from the perspective of an American anthropologist interested in women's issues, a woman who also happened to be married to a Nepali man. I watched as a woman incapable of fidelity tried to decide if she could marry her unsuspecting fiancĂ©. I faced a spoiled teenaged ghost who drove his now adult brother and a B and B owner into each other's lives. I had a front row seat as five single guests at a wedding brought their own dramas, imperfect lives, and often regrettable behaviour to the reception. And I was entertained as two former lovers battled over the phone sex empire that their beloved mutual friend left them in his will.

Where have your reading travels taken you this week?


  1. Okay, I'll say it: You can't be old enough to have a college age son

  2. I went on college visits with my son, as he was applying to schools he'd never seen. My daughter has been on every college campus she is considering for at least a week for a summer camp. I'm not sure if that's enough but hope it is.

  3. All that luxury; all those extras that make life so much more comfortable than it was back in our day, but the student loans are killing the kids. I wonder how much they could save if they live in semi-private dorm rooms with baths down the hall and ate in a cafe that offered three choices per meal?

  4. I just graduated from college 2 years ago, and I have to say that they don't ALL have poor libraries! My college library had three floors of books. They had a great selection of all kinds of literature, but I have to admit that I only used the books for my studies once or twice. Most of my assignments were researched on the computer, and I mostly used the library to check out leisure reading.

  5. I work in a library and this might sound sacrilegious but I wouldn't miss all the books to be honest. A lot of resources can be found online anymore. Even at our own small town library, we don't have resources for a lot of school projects when students are doing research. Many of the books are out of date that we do have and they'll have better look online, including resources that are available through our library's website. After all, you can get full-text articles there that are more up-to-date than most, if not all, of the books we have.


I have had to disable the anonymous comment option to cut down on the spam and I apologize to those of you for whom this makes commenting a chore. I hope you'll still opt to leave me your thoughts. I love to hear what you think, especially so I know I'm not just whistling into the wind here at my computer.

Popular Posts