A day in the country

Yesterday, I got to accompany SuperWife and SuperDependable Teen up to the north country, to check out a college SuperDependable Teen might have been interested in attending.

Allow me to digress into the misty veil of no-doubt selective memory for a moment:

In my senior year of high school, after I'd applied to Syracuse University but before I'd been officially accepted, I was invited to some bogus 'Citizenship Conference' on campus. It was a mostly silly thing where a bunch of kids who were thinking about going to SU showed up, sat through a few classroom seminars, took a tour of the campus with our parents (in my case, just my mom) and got a nice certificate attesting to our participation. (I may still have mine somewhere, as I am certain it is worth at least the paper it is printed on, and maybe a few micropennies more if you throw in the value of the ink.)

I remember being impressed by the campus, and by the people -- TAs, professors, various staff members in other capacities -- that I met while I was there. These people all seemed to be smarter than I was, more adult, more mature. They seemed like they had something to teach me, and I got the impression that if I attended SU and graduated, well, that would be an accomplishment. I did not feel threatened so much as challenged. Syracuse University seemed to me to be a fine place to come of age, a place I could learn a great deal from. And, in fact, it was, and I did, and if I didn't ever graduate from SU, well, that was entirely my fault and not at all the college's.

Apparently, since those long lost days of yore (nearly thirty years ago, jesus, let me just go out to the kitchen and stick my head in the oven), things have changed a great deal in how colleges present themselves to prospective students.

We set the alarm for 5:40, and were on the road by 6:45, aiming to get to NKU by 8:45 to check in for their "Welcome Wednesday" activities. 90 minutes of singing along with Meat Loaf, Melissa Etheridge, and the Killers later, we pulled into the NKU parking lot we'd been directed to, and the festivities began.

We were among at least a hundred or so prospective students with at least one attendant family member attending Northern Kentucky University's "Welcome Wednesday" event. We started out with a one hour seminar conducted by some woman who is apparently in charge of, or is at least, the chosen mouthpiece for, NKU's Admissions Office. I can't remember her name. But I took notes on some of the amazing stuff that came out of her mouth during the hour she stood up there and blathered chirpily to us about the wonders of Northern Kentucky University:

When she was going over the various different schools that NKU has, and the curriculum they offer, she started off with "The College of Arts and Sciences, where you can study... uhm... the Arts... and... er... sciences".

At one point, she mentioned that NKU has a regional accredition, which would allow students there to transfer to other schools that had the same regional accredition without losing any accumulated credits. Now, when I went to school, the college of my choice, Syracuse University, was nationally accredited, and while I could be wrong, I believe that was, at that time, the norm for colleges. This 'regional accredition' thing seems like something of a downgrade.

While she was describing this odd 'regional accredition' thingie, she used the word 'consortium'. Then she blushed, as if she'd done something mildly embarrassing, and hastily added, "That's one of those fancy words you'll encounter in college sometimes".

Later on, she used the word 'convocation' (improperly) in a sentence, and, again, seemed somewhat abashed by her own vocabulary, quickly appending "That's another one of those fancy words".

One of the schools she mentioned in her Power Point presentation was the School of Infomatics. Infomatics is also most likely one of those fancy words one can encounter during one's college career, however, in addition to being fancy, it is also what we writer types like to refer to as 'made up'.

After waxing rhapsodic for ten minutes or so regarding all the various student clubs and student activities available at NKU, our spokeswoman returned for a moment to her muttons, as it were, advising that NKU offered honors level courses to its upperclassmen in various stimulating fields of study, such as Harry Potter, chocolate, and coffee. The coffee class, she went on to burble, had even traveled to the Dominican Republic to see how coffee was actually grown, harvested, and packaged.

Also, there are, apparently, Starbucks stands in nearly every building on the NKU campus.

In addition, she advised, the college was 'blessed' with a heavy law enforcement presence from the local County Sheriff's department, allowing her to state, with absolute authority (this is a direct quote, I was so astonished to hear it that I wrote it down word for word): "For the most part, NKU is a safe environment."

At various points during the opening seminar, our spokeswoman assured us that those who hadn't excelled academically in high school... and here she raised her hand with a cheerful wave and said "Like me!"... could still do well at NKU. (At one point, she mentioned that she was not a 'sciency' person. As she'd already mentioned that she had been a psychology major when attending NKU, SuperWife leaned over to me and said, rather drolly, "Isn't psychology a science?" I muttered something back about how if it was, she wouldn't know it, nor would she be too clear on whether it was an art or not, either.)

Following the seminar, we embarked on a walking tour of campus, guided by a cheerfully ditzy young extrovert named Billy Jo, who caused my jaw to drop slightly when she blithely assured us we could call her BJ. (Prior to this I would have laid money that the nickname 'BJ' had long since gone out of style, another casualty of the Clinton Administration. But I guess I was wrong.) BJ proceeded to walk us all over campus, describing everything in sight as 'cool' and 'fun', intermittently advising us as to various facts and figures which almost inevitably would turn out not to be true ten minutes further on. She showed us a truly ugly Sciences building, some only moderately ugly theater and administration buildings, then guided us through a couple of model dorm rooms that looked to me like something the Bush Administration would house Katrina survivors in.

BJ then walked us down a block to point out the 'cool place to hang out', a sand volleyball court and adjoining basketball court where, she advised us all but breathlessly, the wide receivers for the Cincinnati Bengals could frequently be found playing pick up games. "They're really cool guys," she assured us.

(Everything, according to BJ, was either 'cool' or 'fun' or, if it was something truly exceptional, then it was both 'cool' AND 'fun'. BJ, I should note, was a political science major intending to go to law school, and, I'm sure, if things fall her way, will be a future U.S. Attorney under some Republican Administration.)

I think BJ was prepared to walk the entire group until they dropped, like in that one Richard Bachman novel, but by this point SuperDependable Teen had decided that NKU was not for her, so we excused ourselves from the tour, found our trusty Grand Caravan, and departed for... well, as it turned out, for lunch at Penn Station, which is rarely a bad thing.

NKU's tuition costs for next year are $6,528. If you want your freshman to live on campus (and they 'strongly encourage' all freshmen to live on campus) then the cheapest dorm and dining plan is an additional $5,280 per year. That gets your freshman a spot in an open dorm room roughly the size of a walk in closet that he or she will share with one other roommate. For $6,060 your freshman can upgrade to an apartment with two open double bedrooms in it. For $6,560 you can live in a University Suite that is slightly nicer and, again, has two open double bedrooms in it, and finally, for $7,260 on top of tuition, you can live in a University Suite that has four single bedrooms in it (each single bedroom being half the size, natch, of the doubles).

For your $11,808 - $13,788, you get a campus that is "for the most part... a safe environment". One with ample access to Starbucks coffee shops, one where the dorm rooms look like jail cells, the campus buildings look like prisons, where they will be part of a consortium of 'regionally accredited' campuses, where words like 'consortium' and 'convocation' are considered 'fancy', where honors students can study Harry Potter, chocolate, and coffee, where the School of Arts and Sciences is all about the study of the arts and the sciences, where one can attend an entire curriculum revolving around an entirely made up word, and where the psychology major currently running the admissions department seems entirely uncertain as to whether or not her major field of study and/or expertise is or isn't either an art or a science, but, on the other hand, she's dead certain that her campus is 'blessed' by the presence of a great many gun totin' deputy sheriffs and it's also a wonderful place for people who did not excel academically in high school (like her!) to attend.

My summation is as follows: if a diploma mill is what you're looking for, there are cheaper ones out there. With better accredition. And, probably, admissions officers who will bother to memorize a few of the subjects being taught in their employer's Curriculum of Arts and Sciences.

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