An Educated Choice: Advice for Parents of College-Bound Students

Frank A. Brock, former President of Covenant College packs a ton of wisdom into this short book, available as of this moment for $5.20, 60% off. It echoes a lot of the themes I discussed in Thriving at College, but in a book suitable to parents walking their children through the college preparation and selection process.

Brock sets out to help parents “understand something of the educational landscape and see that there are many types of learning communities with differing philosophies of education, all of which have different outcomes.” He wants to help higher education customers be discerning, because “there’s a difference between getting a degree and getting a good education.”

Brock explains that there are four “emotional filters” through which parents tend to process the college decision: financial, location, familiarity, and who they view as the primary decision maker, the child or themselves. Brock advises parents to initiate a series of conversations with their children about what is important in the college decision. The goal is “an intentional student, one who knows where he or she is going and why. Such intentionality will greatly increase the student’s own desire to make the most of the college experience, thus significantly increasing the likelihood of getting a good education.”

Brock incisively captures today’s teen mindset–as true today as when the book was published 10 years ago: They go to college seeking money and success, whereas they used to go primarily to develop a meaningful philosophy of life. Only about half of high school graduates pursued college as recently as 1970, today it’s well over 70% (although half of these don’t complete a B.A. or B.S. degree even after six years). The number of colleges has proliferated–i.e., supply has grown to meet the rising demand. To best compete for students, colleges have reduced the number of mandatory courses from 6.9 in 1964 to 2.5 in 1993.  Since students don’t have to work hard to get A’s and B’s in high school, they go into college never having learned good study skills (and assuming they’ll still get high grades).

Professors often don’t care to address student work ethic and character in general (let alone their spiritual development), as they were trained (and are now rewarded) in research, not teaching. Many colleges have thus become disintegrated into sharply divided departments, rather than providing a coherent, unified educational experience for students of all majors.  But “curricular coherence” is of vital importance, writes Brock, as is students developing a meaningful philosophy of life, and becoming truly wise and virtuous members of society.

On campus visits, Brock suggests that students ask these sorts of questions:

Was there interaction between the students and the professor in the class?
Did students appear interested or bored?
Were students taking notes?
What are the tests like? Are they true/false and fill in the blank, or essay tests?

The learning environment of the college outside the classroom is also important–e.g., the residential culture, opportunities for meaningful cross-cultural service/missions experiences.  Brock recommends that parents assess the selectivity and cost of various schools, but not to forget that private schools often give merit- and need-based financial aid.

Much more can be said about this excellent book. I highly recommend it to parents of high school students.

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