The Extinction of On-Campus Learning?

Michele Weldon, an assistant journalism professor at The Medill School at Northwestern University, is also a parent sending children off to college this fall. She reflects on the expense of apartment living for students and parents in a recent article  for the Chicago Tribune.

While Weldon doesn’t get into the expense of the dorms, perhaps not wishing to bite the hand that feeds her, she does a number on college student-focused landlords and the prices charged for poorly maintained apartments.

We are entering our third year of my daughter living in an apartment near her university.  The apartment has had raining light fixtures, geysering radiators, broken microwaves, ovens without functioning thermostats, stopped up toilets forcing full bathroom remodels (7 am on Saturday, anyone??) and a few outbreaks of bedbugs, which seem to be getting in through the light fixtures from the neighbors above. The five residents of this particular paradise, together, are paying more than my mortgage.

Weldon’s suggestion is that the universities start pushing the telecommuting button. It’s cheaper to keep the kids at home, wired to their laptops, then it is to send them off to school and the joys of apartment living. True.

But … a major part of the maturing that has happened with my daughter has come from living, with friends, in this apartment of the damned. They have learned how to stand up for themselves. How to be super cleaners and how to prevent the spread of bed bugs. They’ve learned to negotiate chore-sharing and how to handle the uncomfortable conversations when the sharing means one person does it all. She’s figured out how to pay utilities, how to spreadsheet and share the bills and where one can go for the cheapest X, Y or Z in the neighborhood.

They’ve figured out how to use Craig’s List to get what they need cheaper than the stores. They already have a plan for dividing up all of the mutually purchased items and collaborated kitchen. They plan meals, bring each other food when one of the apartment can’t make a meal and harass each other into going to the doctor when its necessary.

I appreciate that she can read Latin and that she can talk at length about Marx, but really … laundry, cooking and paying bills … that’s the real stuff as is her true appreciation for how far a dollar can stretch.

My son goes off to the dorms shortly and will negotiate REALLY doing his own laundry … amazing what I do just because I want to ‘run a full load’ … and start to do a little meal planning and food management. He’ll have to share a room (gasp) and the joy of cleaning a bathroom … or else … I won’t be visiting and neither will any other sane females!

Like the reading, the math and the science … I’ve given them a good foundation in life, but life itself is the best teacher. Don’t get me wrong … I was a mess when my daughter left for school and I’ll be worse when my son officially empties my nest, but that launch is important for all of us in the family dynamic.

It would be great if college landlords stepped it up… and I’m sure they’d be delighted if their transient tenants would as well. It would be amazing if more groceries stores found their way into the areas surrounding colleges … and that the students would direct themselves towards produce on more than the odd Thursday. But I don’t think staying at home is the solution. My door will always be open to my kids, but it is also open for them to leave.

My son’s campus has a Dominick’s (local grocery store chain) basically ‘on campus’. His sister is very jealous of that. Who knew that would be an issue. Isn’t it kind of great??

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