COLLEGE BOUND, PART 1
“New students, welcome to UCSB. . . .In the next four weeks you will have the opportunity to do something really stupid. Resist the temptation!”
Michael Young, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, UCSB
Sending an 18-year-old off to college can be a fraught affair for parents no less than for their offspring. To gain some insight into this transition, I sat down with Aaron Ettenberg, PhD, Professor of Neuroscience & Behavior at the University of California Santa Barbara. Dr. Ettenberg has held a variety of teaching and administrative posts at UCSB, which has given him a unique perspective on what has not and has changed in academia over the past 35 years.
Students have not changed. Contrary to prevailing opinion, Aaron Ettenberg thinks that, at UCSB at least, incoming students are more or less the same as their predecessors. “Since the university only accepts the top 12 ½ % of California’s graduating high school seniors, most new entrants arrive with well-developed study habits, organizational skills, academic ambitions, and intellectual curiosity. They have the same mindset as earlier students.”
Having said that, he admits, “At 18 years old young people don’t always make the wisest choices. Away from home for the first time, they suddenly have to confront when to eat (or if to eat at all), what classes to attend, whom to hang out with, and a whole host of other decisions that were previously made for them. Not every young person is ready for this degree of freedom. In fact, many graduate schools now ignore the first two years’ undergraduate GPA with an understanding that it takes time for kids to find their footing. I believe some 18- year-olds would do well to start out living at home and attending a community college, which makes an excellent transition to a four-year institution.”
But the university has changed. Residential institutions of higher learning always considered themselves in loco parentis. They had strict curfews, limited visiting hours, house mothers, sign-out books, and all sorts of rules regarding dress, attendance, and behavior. With the student protests of the 1960’s all that went out the window. Universities still take responsibility for safety and well-being, but beyond that students are largely on their own. Among other adjustments an incoming freshman has to face today might be living on a floor above or even next to students of the opposite sex. Talk about a distraction!
And parents are different, too. Although universities have become more laissez-faire, parents have become more activist. Academics often comment on this phenomenon, and Dr. Ettenberg says it’s for real. “’Helicopter parents’ have become more common,” he claims. “They are more interventionist, more aggressive, and see themselves as advocates instead of advisers. Unfortunately, by intervening inappropriately they prevent their child from becoming an independent adult.”
There are better ways than “helicoptering” for parents to foster student success. In part two of this interview, Aaron Ettenberg will share what works.