By Sharon Rosen Leib
My husband used to joke that our social butterfly oldest daughter would attend the University of Facebook, because she spent more hours tracking Facebook posts than studying her high school textbooks. But oldest daughter proved him wrong. She reformed her errant Facebook ways, worked hard and gained admission to several esteemed institutions of higher learning.
Oldest daughter and I spent spring break in Boston visiting two of these institutions. We explored her options as thoroughly as possible by sitting in on a few classes, chatting with professors, hanging out with students, eating in the dining commons and spending a night in the dorms (her, not me — no one wants to see a 49-year-old woman in a college dorm).
The first day, we visited a private, smallish liberal arts university (approximately 5,000 students) in one of Boston’s suburbs. This university charges $42,000 per annum tuition. A promotional fact sheet advertises that the 2011 Princeton Review named the school one of the 100 “best value colleges.” Who could pass up such a deal?
I dropped oldest daughter off at “best value” U (BVU). She met a BVU freshman friend who wanted to show her the ropes. They dashed off to a class, leaving me to fend for myself. I made my way to BVU’s sleek admissions building and asked the cheerful student receptionist if I, a prospective-tuition-paying parent, could sit in on a class. She said, “Of course, just pick one of the classes on this list and email the professor first to see if he has room for you.” I found a class that appealed to my English-major sensibility: American Literature From 1900-2000. The class started in 20 minutes, so I dashed off an email to Professor B, who replied, “Of course. Welcome.”
I arrived just as class began and sat in the back row. Professor B, a somewhat rumpled middle-aged man with a graying-auburn beard and the intensity of an academician passionate about his subject, launched into his lecture on class and ethnic conflict in Faulkner’s “Absalom, Absalom.” Half of the 35 kids in the class sat with their laptops in front of them. What an efficient way for fast typists to take notes, I thought. But to my horror, I saw the kids pull up their Facebook home pages. Did the University of Facebook really exist?
Kids, why listen to an erudite lit professor instead of tuning into Facebook? I’ll tell you why — because some of your parents pay $54,000 a year (including room and board) for you to read, listen, participate and maybe actually learn something! In my state of indignation, I almost leapt up and grabbed the laptop of a young women shopping for a bikini online.
My daughter informed me that half of the 50 kids in the international relations class she attended perused Facebook throughout the lecture. The next morning, she attended a freshmen writing seminar with 15 students and reported that even in that small setting a male student pulled up his Facebook page. When the professor walked by him, he instantly toggled back to his class notes.
An old college acquaintance of mine, Professor P, teaches Russian and comparative literature at BVU. I asked him about the troubling Facebook phenomenon. He assured me that students in his seminars don’t go on Facebook during class because he paces the room looking over their shoulders. “Some professors don’t allow laptops or any other electronic devices in their classrooms,” he said. Astonishing and depressing that, even in college, teachers must police their adult students’ classroom behavior.
The following day my daughter and I visited big private U (BPU) in the heart of Boston. A year at BPU costs $56,000 (all inclusive). Yikes! But the extra $2,000 at BPU goes a long way. We sat in on an introduction to communication writing workshop with 14 students — no laptops, no Facebook — and read handouts of students’ writing to be critiqued. The professor and students participated in a give and take discussion. How refreshing to see critical thinking in action.
Then we attended an admitted student/parent open house at one of BPU’s colleges. The dean told the prospective students, “University education is a gift from your parents, many of whom make great sacrifices to send you here. Honor and savor this gift, this opportunity to consider how to make an impact.” The dean’s words lifted me out of my University of Facebook funk. She imparted a valuable lesson — education matters.
My words to the wise parent: don’t mail the deposit check until you’ve left no stone unturned considering which college to choose. Be sure to sit in on a class or two. Four years of private college is a huge investment of time and money, so do your homework!