Monday, August 29, 2011

College...

Ok, so even though college seems light years away right now for Jacob, I have no doubt that the time will come in the blink of an eye.  In 15 years from right about now, we'll hopefully be sending Jacob off to college for the first time.  Scary.  As it is I remembered last Tuesday morning as I was driving home from Buffalo that I had taken that same path 15 years earlier to the day, as a passenger stuffed in my parents' backseat with all of my stuff, on my way to Geneseo for the first time.  As vividly as I remember that time, and as quickly as those years have gone, I can only imagine how quickly Jacob's entrance into the college world will arrive.

I am well aware that the college experience I had is far different than anything Jacob will have.  Heck, the college experience of kids today is already far different, and in 15 more years I can't imagine how things will have evolved further, particularly as far as technology is concerned.  For example...

I didn't even use the internet until the summer before college when we got our first PC and did the slow, obnoxiously loud dialup logon to AOL.  My first college emailing was done on green screened terminals, and our email system was a DOS-based program the whole time I was there.  Not everyone had a computer, so computer labs were often full enough that you sometimes had to wait in line.  Instant messaging didn't become popular until sometime during college, though our primitive email system did have a way to do it with friends at some other colleges, and what a novelty that was!  It was great to talk to an old friend in real time, because, of course, none of us had cellphones and long distance calls cost money! 

I brought my old Apple II GS to college sometime during my freshman year to write primitive looking papers in the comfort of my own room.  I kept it until sometime during my junior year when my parents upgraded and gave me their old computer, a real PC that could produce papers according to professor specs.  Even then, of course, the computer had a massive tower, so it was a pain to cart there and back each year.  Now all incoming freshman must have a notebook PC.  As in mandatory.  Wow.

When I was in college, only a handful of people I knew actively used cell phones.  I only got one for emergency purposes when I got my car senior year.  It wasn't quite a Zack Morris phone, but it was a good three times larger and heavier than my current one.  Texting was unheard of, let alone having the internet on it!  MP3 players didn't exist, so most of us lugged a CD player (maybe with a cassette deck!) with us to school.  And anyone who brought a TV was bringing a clunky tube TV that weighed a ton.  Oh, and we weren't allowed to have microwaves in our rooms unless it was part of the micro-fridges that the college rented out.  Long live the hot pot (though I never had one)...

We had to resort to primitive means to feel out our assigned freshman roommate.  An awkward phone call was pretty much the standard.  We couldn't friend them on Facebook and stalk them carefully, nor could we email beforehand to work out little details.  I have a feeling most kids are already well aware of everything having to do with their roommate ahead of time now, between cell phone chats, Skype sessions, emails, texts, and Facebook.

When I went to college there wasn't this mass marketing attack of "must-haves" for college.  At best they pushed some bath totes, crates, and desk lamps.  Now there's oodles of bedding choices made for all your XL-Twin bed needs, in every pattern you could ask for.  They push furniture of all types (so you either better be living in an apartment or suite, because God knows the standard corridor-style dorm room will be lucky to fit the provided furniture).  There are thousands of accessories for your technology needs, and a vast assortment of anything else you might possibly need while away from the comfy confines of your parents' house--all color coordinated and extra modern, no doubt.  We also couldn't poke holes in our walls to decorate (asbestos and all--so we had to stick with the existing cork strips, or use tape or that blue putty), so what I wouldn't have given for today's assortment of lovely removable wall decals...even if I still look back fondly on the mishmash of stuff we had on our walls each year.

I saw something in the paper yesterday about Geneseo's tuition, and when I looked up the full cost of a year, including room and board, I almost choked.  I knew the cost had gone up, but I had no idea it had nearly doubled.  For a state school, no less.  And here I was feeling ever-so-slightly comfortable that our years of daycare spending were setting us up for an acceptable college-funding budget down the road.   Not anymore.  Room and board alone is twice the cost of tuition.  I guess Jacob will really have to work his butt off and find as many scholarships as possible--not that we wouldn't have expected that of him anyway, but there is no other option now.  Nothing like pressure to achieve starting at the ripe old age of three.

I know the Geneseo campus itself has changed a lot.  There's a Starbucks in the Union, a new food court in a formerly vacant dining hall, two new dorms, new townhouses, a new science building, frou-frou themes for certain dorms, and a bunch of reworked spaces.  Students now will never know what it was like to walk across the freezing tundra through horizontal rain and show (because townhouses are there now).  The trend now is toward suites or shared bathrooms, which means fewer students will get the uber-social experience of corridor-style dorming.  Geneseo itself has changed, with a new Super Walmart, an Applebee's, Tim Hortons, and quite a few more shopping options than we had.  More than anything, perhaps, there was a certain element of fear and excitement about the whole experience--being a bit more cut off from home and old friends and starting completely fresh--but now technology eliminates that almost completely. 

I know that you can't really stop technology, and colleges need to do what they can to keep up with trends and make things unique and exciting.  There's really no stopping any of this, and I feel a little fuddy-duddy as I talk about the "old days" and how students don't know how hard we had it back then (comparatively, I guess).  The funny thing is that despite all of the improvements and changes, college kids these days are probably still complaining about things just as much as we did--bad food, broken technology, boring professors, too much work, uncomfortable beds.  Or maybe not.  Maybe the whole experience is still just as overwhelming and scary, or maybe it's only that way because (as many articles out there will tell you) kids are generally coddled more nowadays.  Helicopter parenting, toned down playgrounds, trophies for winners and non-winners alike...the articles (like this one and this one) will tell you that kids aren't learning coping mechanisms, so despite all these additional luxuries, they may be no better off than we were. 

Getting back to Jacob, it's hard to imagine what the college world will be like with 15 more years of change before he heads in that direction.  If I'm this far out of touch now, it scares me to think how unqualified I will be then to give him college advice.  But I guess our job in the meantime is to guide him along and give him opportunties to grow into a kid who will adjust nicely, no matter what the future will bring.  Such a tall order...but we've got some time to figure it out, right? :)

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