Junior and Missy’s parents are driving them 12 hours away from their hometown to The University of Getting Out of My Parents’ House. Sure, there are plenty of local community colleges and state schools they could have attended, but then they would have to come home every night to live with those stupid cash machines who raised them. They’d sooner marry someone their parents hate than live at home another day. And they will, but first Junior and Missy will have to waste $200,000 getting useless degrees in Binge Drinking and Hooking Up, or as colleges and universities like to call it, “Communication Studies.”
The hotels this week are full and the stores are packed with college freshmen and their parents shopping for just the necessities, the things you really need to get good grades in college — full-length mirrors, hairdryers, juicers and Keurig coffee machines. All the things the parents wished they had when they went to college but couldn’t afford. Junior and Missy won’t be staying in a dorm, silly; their parents have bought them a condo near campus where they can really crack the books — and host nightly beer pong parties.
What is truly stunning is how plain it is that the incoming freshmen cannot stand being in the presence of their parents. It’s as if the parents, especially the moms, are wearing an invisible force-field that smells like skunk. If their teenager gets too close to them, the kid’s nose wrinkles and their eyes go rolling. You can read the expression as if it were on a banner in foot-high letters over their head: “Why can’t you just give me all the money I need and leave? I can do everything myself!”
Everything, that is, except earn the money that makes the whole scam possible. The parents don’t seem to notice that all their buying isn’t making the kids love them more; if anything, it makes the rift bigger. Parents are tossing money down a deep hole of resentment that gets deeper with each dollar spent.
What would the freshman class look like if they had to spend a year or two working before they could run away from home: if they were required to pay for some of their own tuition, instead of working for that year or two after they flunk out freshman year? What if college entrance requirements were teacher and employer recommendations instead of SAT scores?
That, of course, will never happen. Higher education is all about thinking outside the box. Except when it comes to higher education. Just because it hasn’t worked for years, and it gets more unaffordable each year, why change it?
What college would students choose if they had to pay for it? The University of Getting Out of My Parents’ House or the community college down the road?
Sure, everybody wants to go to a “good” school, to go to their first choice, but is the math they teach down the street any different than the math they teach far away? Is Geology 101 different at Harvard than it is at UCLA? Is biology different in Nebraska than it is in Florida? If it is, something’s very, very wrong.
Why is there an English department at any school? If you got an 800 on your SAT, it’s a good bet that you already speak English. For all that money, shouldn’t you be learning something you don’t know? Say, French, Farsi or Finnish? What are you going to do with that English degree? Teach English to people who already know it? That must be tough. How did Shakespeare and Dickens ever get by without one? How did they make it in life without ever studying Shakespeare or Dickens? Or maybe they did because they never went to college.
Still dying to get a degree in Pop Culture from some Ivy League school? Go to community college for two years and then transfer over. You’ll still get your high-status scroll and you’ll also have saved enough money to have a big, splashy wedding to someone your parents despise. That’ll show them.
Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life,” “Baby’s First Tattoo” and “Now in Paperback.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.