Heidi at Mt. Hope Academy, one of my favorite blogs, had a beautiful and thought-provoking post a few weeks ago, titled "Childhood Essentials." As she explains the post, "As I travel down the road of deliberate parenting, I've thought a great deal about my childhood and what I want for my own children. So many things find their home on my childhood essentials list, and yet so many things are strangely absent."
I kept intending to take time to make my own Childhood Essentials post, but lately I find myself thinking much more about College Essentials.
Jesse started his first class at our local community college this week. He's in the dual enrollment program, which means he's getting both high school and college credit at the same time. He's just taking one course, Music Appreciation, to get his feet wet. So far he loves the course.
But community college is just a temporary spot. His real college experience will start in less than two years. He'll be graduating a year early because, well, why not? He wants to, and his first ACT score will earn him a decent scholarship. Hopefully his next ACT score will bring in a fantastic one. I know, I know: there's more to college than being ready academically, and, frankly, he's pretty mature and wise. And with two more years yet at home, I feel confident that he'll do well emotionally in college, as well as academically.
So now the pressing question becomes: where?
Lately more and more people from my alma mater have joined Facebook, and it's like this big continuous reunion. People are posting photos, stories, and questions ("whatever happened to...") every day. There is something tremendously satisfying about shared memory.
I went to a small, private college of less than 1,000 students. I absolutely loved it. (OK, sometimes I hated it, too, but only in an anti-authority kind of way. Anarchy and all that.) Living on-campus, in dorms was mandatory unless you were over a certain age (maybe 23?), married, or a commuter (there weren't many commuters back then). Suffice it to say, you pretty much knew everyone. And although you know everyone's name, you don't necessarily hang out with everyone. You meet your people.
And that's what I want for my kids: I want them to have People.
I had good friends in high school, and I have some great memories from then. But in college, you live and breathe each other. It is this amazing world of its own that I don't think can ever be duplicated, except perhaps to some degree within your own family. But it's not the same, even in your family. There are people from my college years who know pretty much everything there is to know about me, and they love me anyway. We have a warehouse full of shared memories stretching over hours, days, months, years—memories that are so powerful that one "remember when" on Facebook comes into focus with perfect clarity.
Throughout the years many people have remarked on the friendships I've sustained with college friends as if it were something unusual. I have to wonder how much that comes from going to such a small college. My mom friends and I discuss the College Experience sometimes. We have differing views. Some of them lived at home and commuted to the closest university. Some lived on campus and loved it. One hated it. But very few had, well, People. A village.
I realize when I have these thought processes that I always go back to the people. Academics? Yes, I had a fabulous academic learning experience in college. Our Humanities program in particular was outstanding. It was like advanced Sonlight: good literature, history and art all bouncing off of each other.
But academics were, for me, just one part of the whole experience. And isn't personal fulfillment based largely on relationships? God created us to be relational—to love, interact, encourage, and help each other. And so that's what I keep going back to: I want my kids to find lifelong friends. Friends that know them for who they really are; friends who want to have reunions every year; friends who can say "remember the time your car rolled..." in twenty years and don't even have to finish the sentence.
Yes, I know. Ultimately, it's our children's decision about where they go to college. But as a parent, it's my job to provide them with insights that come with experience.
So free university (lottery scholarship and faculty discount) or expensive private college? Check back next year.