Like many a household this time of year, mine is consumed with angst waiting to hear which colleges my kid has gotten into. And like many parents in a similar situation, I’m caught by how the educational system in the US forces many kids to pick a path before they really have any idea what their choices are.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I believe the system is terribly broken. College students don’t sign a suicide pact along with their enrollment documents. Majors can change, extra time can be taken and students can move to another academic institution at almost any time (One of the schools my son applied to has a 24% dropout rate after freshman year. That is, 24% of the students who enter the school leave after a single year to go to another school). Perhaps, though, we could educate happier people who are better at their chosen occupation if we spent the first year of their college experience showing them the huge menu of choices they have. So at least they have a chance of not stumbling down an non-optimal, predetermined path.
This situation has made me consider if this is, in fact, a current generation phenomenon or was this the case 30-some years ago when I went off to college. I think it is different today. Certainly I didn’t understand the full smorgasbord of choices available to me at the time, but after a lifetime of experimenting with the world around me and taking things apart, I knew I wanted to be some sort of engineer. I went to an engineering college (Lehigh University) and got exposed to the engineering disciplines and chose one. I’m confident my path led me to the right choice.
Today, though, kids are so sheltered before entering college, their experiences tend to be very narrow. They’re barely able to ride their bikes to the end of the street and mom and dad want a GPS bracelet and cell phone strapped to their children at all times. Since there’s little freedom, there’s certainly little exploration and virtually no failure. When I was a kid, I had no qualms about clamping an Estes D rocket engine to my mother’s bathroom vanity to see what would happen (she almost strangled me although that wasn’t the experimental result I was thinking about when I did it and, oh, rocket engines burn VERY hot). Today, I don’t even know if a 12 year old can legally buy a D-size engine. A kid certainly can’t purchase lightable fuse any longer.
Many kids are also entering college never having held a substantial job nor even having had any real financial responsibilities in their lives. Do we really expect them to make life-long decisions after never having anything to base them on?
Of course, dumping this responsibility on colleges and universities is simply a patch for a problem that they didn’t create in the first place. As impossible as it seems, though, I think it would be easier to change how some colleges function than it would be to change how parents are raising their children or, to alter the myriad of environmental factors that cause parents (me included) to shelter their children so much.
I realize I’m rambling and this topic deserves more thought and effort. Any thoughts? Comments?