Why do students go to university? It used to be because that was where the books were. Today when just about everything (and an opinion about it) is a click or two away – why do students uproot themselves and leave home? Why do they risk homesickness to obtain an education when they could get access to knowledge while on the couch in their pajamas, petting the family labra-doodle, and eating ice-cream from the carton?
A story in the Oct 21 WSJ reported on the large number of college students suffering homesickness. By now it is laughably easy to write a piece lamenting the rising number of young adults who are immature, non-resilient, tethered to their parents, unable to adapt outside the comforts of home, and protected from all unpleasantness. But – this piece also provided a glimpse into a new answer to the old question – why do students go to universities? Because that is where contiued coddling is. I see a new role emerging for universities: taking care of every aspect of your life from your freshman year to as long as you live. Used to be a young adult could not wait to move from home to dorm (sure there could be moments of sadness and loneliness but…) and as quickly as possible move from dorm to an off campus apartment (usually horribly shabby) and from there on to an independent life. The hiccups, bumps, lifts, tragedies and joys encountered along contributing to your personal calibration scale for distinguishing minor from major events and an appreciation for life as a trajectory. Sometimes you actually do just move on.
But now – when you go to college you live in a posh resort. Beautiful rooms, elaborate recreational facilities, gorgeous grounds, and innumerable dining options. Sad? We’ll provide a dog to pet. Lonely – we’ll host an ice cream social in the dorm. Tired? Come to class in your pajamas. Stressed? We have massage therapists on call. Everything you could need or want in a utopia where everyone thinks just like you do (or at least acts as if they do) so there are no sharp elbows to encounter, ever. And when you finally do have to graduate after 6 or 7 years – and can not find a job – stay here! We’ll hire you as peer counselors, entertainment directors, and development staff. And if you are lucky and you go to a school like Dartmouth you can buy a plot and be buried right on campus.
Taking young adults seriously means letting them engage in the world. This is not just geezer talk. Reslience can not be bestowed – it must be acquired. Who, having reached a certain age, would trade their experiences, positive or negative for the comfort of a bean bag?
Ok, I am being deliberatively provocative. How about this: why do students go to universities? Because they want access to the knowledge needed to launch their lives. What do you think?