Students Today

Dean Dad writes about two different perceptions of college across a generational divide of 50 years.

The older man seemed to assume that college was a relatively carefree time in which a young man could spent most of his time, well, being young. That’s a popular image of college, and there’s ample historical precedent for it.

But the younger man is living in a very different world. For him, college is one set of time commitments among others, and his days are all about time management.

Dean Dad talks about the inaccurate perceptions of college as a carefree experience in which students gad about like heedless butterflies, enjoying the perpetual spring of higher education. There is some of that, certainly, but a lot less than one might suppose.

This is a more accurate vision of students today.

Dean Dad is specifically addressing the issue in relation to public policy being set by those who have the impression that college is four years of continuing to be a child, without responsibilities. That is an important issue.

At my inner-city community college, students were working full-time, going to school full-time, and were taking care of their extended families. For them the Pell Grant and low-cost loans are a necessity for getting out of poverty.

At my residential, private SLAC (Are there public SLACs?), these things also can mean the difference between graduating and being able to pay their debts versus graduating and defaulting because they cannot eat and pay back their loans.

The experience has been in the US that each generation lives better than the generation that came before it. I am in a two-income family, though I grew up in a one-income family, and together we will never make as much money as my father did–even though my husband’s career is very lucrative and I have a terminal degree. (An English professor is low person on the totem pole for salaries at an SLAC, where they pay according to the perception of ease of getting a job outside of academia.) I hope that my sons, who are in college now, will actually make more money (in comparative terms) than we did. One son may, the other likely will not.

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