A little context: When I went to college, NO ONE brought a computer; if you were interested in computer science, you had to book time on a mainframe and often, that meant getting a slot at two in the morning. For bragging rights, people brought stereos — with turntables. (Boom boxes were just beginning to become a popular alternative.) A few people had televisions, small B&W sets that were hand-me-downs from home. Few of us had phones; most of us shared a pay phone at the end of the hallway with other people in the dorm and messages were exchanged on the basis of trust (however misplaced). There were NO cell phones.
Fast forward to 2013 and I’m taking my oldest daughter, Becca, with the rest of my family to visit schools she might apply to. After a number of these, one is not only footsore — one begins to detect common themes, certain trends in higher education that you can expect to find everywhere, in any school. To wit:
- Free laundry: Forget scrounging up quarters. Most schools offer free laundry now. The more advanced schools have digitized their machines, alerting students to open units and to when their cycles are completed.
- Blue lights: Miss Jean Brody would be disappointed to see that safety (not truth, beauty and goodness) comes first. Every campus now has a network of blue light safety call boxes, each one in sight of the next.
- One card: Eins volk, eins college, eins card! Today’s student ID card serves multiple duties, providing proof of identification…keycard access to dorm rooms…access to dining services…free access to public transportation…and even a kind of debit card service for snacks and other amenities. If you live on campus, don’t leave home without it. In fact, you probably can’t.
- Slick videos: In an unusual stroke of prescience, I saved my R.U. student handbook, a sad, side-stapled, two-color affair with crude graphics no school today, of any stature, would allow to represent itself. Instead, everyone has a professionally shot state-of-the-art video. Kick back and enjoy the show but remember, that’s the most expensive bucket of popcorn you’ll ever plough through.
- No slackers: In my day, it was enough to complete a major. Period. Everything else was gravy. If you were really motivated, you visited the career services center sometime in the second semester of your senior year. Oh my friends, such lassitude is no longer acceptable, not by a long-shot. Today’s student carries multiple majors…is enrolled in an honors program with a senior thesis requirement…scores multiple internships…completes a practicum…works not one, but at least two part-time jobs…and the cherry on top: a volunteer service commitment “to give back to the community.” Part of me admires the work ethos and go-get-’em gumption of today’s student; part of me thinks they’ll graduate old.
Of course, there’s wifi everywhere and anything anyone would care to know is on a web page or mobile app of some kind. The grounds are beautifully maintained, and the sports program is something everyone supports by wearing the same t-shirt on game days.
I’m sure there are other commonalities, but after a five-hour drive home today, these are all I can think of. If you can think of others, please add them to the comments.