According to the Boston Globe, colleges are complaining about ‘helicopter parents‘, describing moms and dads whose constant hovering leads to overinvolvement in their student’s life. Such overparenting, they say, “endangers a crucial development phase in which students are seeking to become self-reliant.” Administrators say they began to notice the uptick in parents’ calls and oversight five to seven years ago. Schools have responded, attempting to impede some parents’ intervention on behalf of the student.
Point taken, but one wonders: why the hovering?
“Hypotheses range from the competitive frenzy over school success to the high cost of college education and the trend toward smaller families, in which children make decisions with their parents.” Others blame e-mail, cell phones, instant messaging, and other easy forms of communication. Still others think it has been prompted in part by family dynamics, primarily divorce.
But the WSJ CareerJournal.com responds with “In Defense of Hovering: Parents Explain Their Meddling at College.
Sue Kirkpatrick intended to let her daughter manage her own life at college, but “bureaucratic bungling” (the school forgot her scholarships incalculating tuition ) threatened to cost the family $12,000. “Colleges,” Ms. Kirkpatrick says, “don’t always listen to their students.”
“Byzantine eligibility requirements” complicate tuition, scholarships, and loans. And soaring tuition makes stays beyond four years unaffordable. According to this Slate item, the only families paying full sticker price at elite universities come from wealthier families. “Middle-income families paid a discounted tuition of $10,794 in 1988 (in year 2000 constant dollars); the same families in 2001 paid $11,024, an increase of just 2 percent in 13 years. Low-income families actually experienced a reduction in tuition, from a 1988 net of $7,667 to $5,907 in 2000.” While those among with upper incomes saw a big increase in tuition, “even their tuition cost represented about the same share of family income in 2001 as in 1988”. The purpose of this policy is redistributionist: wealthier students subsidize needier classmates by paying full price.
Interesting, but as the rest of us have seen considerable tuition inflation, it’s not surprising that parents hover over such an outlay. “During any 17-year period from 1958 to 2001, the average annual tuition inflation rate was between 6% and 9%, ranging from 1.2 times general inflation to 2.1 times general inflation. On average, tuition tends to increase about 8% per year. An 8% college inflation rate means that the cost of college doubles every nine years.” With this kind of expense, perhaps such hovering is better termed ‘intense investor scrutiny’.
Others look back on their college years and see mediocrity, something they don’t want for their children.
Still others see bureaucracies that flummox mere students. When a Tennessee systems programmer’s daughter broke her leg as an undergrad, she was unable to get a handicapped-parking pass at the $20,000-a-year university. Her parents finally called campus officials, cited federal disabilities law, and got the pass. The likely outcome of the daughter’s foray into the maw of College Administration would have been (and was) zip. Nada. So which is the “life lesson” to be valued: burned by the college admin desk, or learning by the actions of a mentor? And at what point is the student harmed by too much watching?
A change of majors can prove financially disastrous, as one parent discovered. A Virginia man said his undergrad son got off-track in course planning when his academic adviser abandoned him after changing majors. While the private Virginia university promoted its individual attention, their neglect will cost this wealth-management adviser “$150,000 in after-tax cost.”
1. I don’t trust the universities to act in my daughter’s best interest. As David Horowitz has demonstrated in his work with the organization FIRE , students often need their individual rights defended at American universities. The list of grievances is long, but suffice it to say that higher education often demonstrates antipathy towards the classical liberal values of liberty, legal equality, and dignity.
For example, my daughter’s summer reading assignment before freshman year was the execrable Nickled and Dimed (no link, no way), that socialist travelogue of slumming with the “common man” by activist author Barbara Ehrenreich. At the first week’s seminar, she told me that opinions contrary to the redistributionist conclusion were, well, unwelcome.
2. A new teacher at my daughter’s school flunked over half the class, and gave D’s to one-fourth, in an introductory economics class. During the tests and quizzes, the grad student teaching assistants confessed to her that they themselves could not understand the object of some test questions, nor did they comprehend the answers. After loud and numerous parent complaints, most grades were “shifted” up two levels. Ludicrous.
Frankly, I don’t trust their judgement. My father did, and they deserved his faith in them. I don’t feel they warrant such deference any longer. I often wonder whether I am paying close enough attention.