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Joe The Nerd Ferraro Headshot

When Do Grads Get a Choice?

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This commencement address season is seeing more tempests in a teapot than normal. The process goes something like this:

  • Famous person gets asked to speak by the administration of the school
  • The student body goes nuts
  • The invitation gets rescinded; or
  • The speaker realizes they do not want to be part of a dog and pony show and bows out
  • Media goes tsk tsk tsk at the kids.

First off -- to solve the issue the administrations of these schools need to ask who the students want rather than forcing the issue? As a parent of three in college, I can remember the smaller versions of my adults rejecting certain types of foods. At least one still rejects broccoli. If we wanted to get them to eat a certain way, we would offer a limited amount of alternatives they could accept. It is an easier argument to win when you can say -- "Look, you cleared tofu as a dinner food...".

Colleges of today are pretty used to getting their way with the kids and parents. Colleges get to look at the exact financial position of a student's family as financial aid packages are meted out. It is almost an operations research problem as the college determines how much they can extract from the family's current financial position and the students' future financial positions in order to get that maximized point of cash for the college.

If you haven't been to college for a while, you might notice that many colleges are requiring students to live on campus -- even after age 21. Is this a 'safety thing'? No -- it is a 'monetization thing.' If you force the students to live on campus with a meal plans at inflated prices, guess who gets the extra cash?

When a kids get to graduation, they don't have the same survival skills kids from 20-30 years ago had coming out of school. No one is transitioning to off-campus housing after freshman year. Since they really haven't lived on their own, guess where they may likely live after commencement? It is not just the killer debt the schools are laying on the kids -- it is a disservice in the name of the bottom line that drops kids back at the parent's front door after 4 years of summer camp.

You don't think it is a summer camp? When we shopped for colleges with each of our three kids, I think every one of the schools we looked at had rock walls, updated gym facilities and at least one really nice dorm. At $30-40k plus the extra $10k for living on campus per kid, the facilities are wonderful ... Don't forget to add student fees to use the swimming pool.

Even the sports are monetized, but not the way you think. They are being used as engines for recruitment. In our case, our oldest choose his school because the lacrosse team had a lousy record and a coach with his head screwed on right. Sport for the sake of sport.

What we did not know when he accepted was the program had already been cut because there were only 25 kids on the team. The school waited to deliver that message until after the kids got back from Christmas break. It was going to be the last year for the sport.

As we went to the games, we noticed as our 25 guys were exhausted from playing, each of the other schools had as many as 80 kids suited up to play. There is no way you can rotate that many kids into a one hour game. We sat and thought about it and realized that each of those kids was probably paying close to full boat to be on that sideline not to play. It was a cynical cash bonanza. A number of these schools used to be all female schools and were using lacrosse as a selling tool to bring guys in.

It may be time to look at colleges as businesses and not marketed ivory-towered bastions of purity. (Remember, you can get a marketing degree from these places so they SHOULD know what they are doing.)

We hope the kids learned to think during their time at school. If the lessons in the classroom tell them that we went to war in the wrong place, or stifling dissent on a campus is wrong, or the financial systems are FUBAR -- then it may be proof that something got in there when they refuse to honor a people who should not be honored.

So instead of clicking my tongue when the students do get on their hind legs and loudly say NO to an administration that wants to honor someone the student body viscerally rejects -- I cheer. It is a sign of hope that the kids are finally getting to make a choice and will learn to speak in unison. It is just a shame that they learn the lesson as they walk out the door.

I pray they stay on their hind legs.