Monday, October 26, 2015

Affirmation as ROI: Thoughts after College Family Weekend

       This past weekend my wife, son, and I visited my daughter for Family Weekend at Bryn Mawr College, where she is a first-year student. We had a wonderful time meeting her friends and their parents, attending events on campus, venturing into Philadelphia, savoring great food, and hearing her perform in her a capella group. It was, as the college hopes, a quite affirming experience. After all, like independent schools, colleges want the parents to feel pleased with their investment, perhaps even beginning to see some returns on it. Of course, I also was casting my eye on the experience as a head of school.
       Fittingly, tonight I will attend a presentation by Frank Bruni, author Where You Go Is Not Who'll You Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania. I referenced this book in a post from last May, when I wrote about the process that led to Kate's opting to attend Bryn Mawr. I suspect the title gives any reader some idea of the highlights, so I won't reiterate them. Between these two experiences, I've been thinking quite a bit about this idea of affirmation. More particularly, just what is it we want affirmed?
       I've written plenty in the past about my thoughts on the entire idea of return on investment when it comes to education. For a moment, I'll set aside my idealism and acknowledge the realities of wanting your children to find jobs, make a salary that allows a certain quality of life, gain admission to quality schools. I feel them myself. But my angst increases when these become the essential measure of success, the terms often dictated by others. The educational process must be about the making of a life.
       Thus I want to twist Bruni's title a bit. The selection of a college is not who one will be. But it can have a tremendous influence, in ways good and bad. I want to focus on the best scenario. In that case where you go will determine who you will be for a simple reason: it will help a young person continue to grow into a better version of her- or himself. It won't change them, at least not their core. In fact, it will be more like a sculptor chipping away at the stone to find that beautiful statue already within. Professors won't teach students what to think, but how to think; and how to articulate their thoughts more powerfully. I find myself returning to a post I wrote over three years ago, titled "Less I, More R"

                So how does one know? What is the measure?                Your child.                Despite our wishes that every family choose us because of our mission, I wonder what percentage do. Besides, most of our mission statements contain the same generic, albeit aspirational rhetoric that remains very open to interpretation.  Ultimately, the hopes and dreams of a family are highly individualized. Each has different wishes and wants and needs. It’s highly personal and internal. Yet so often we look towards external measures for validation.                Instead, look at your child. Ask yourself if you see her or him developing in ways that match your values. For me, this means continually asking some big questions. Do they still love learning? Does their learning lead them to engage with the world? Are they becoming more independent? Are they positive and optimistic about their potential? Are they steadily becoming better versions of their unique selves?
I don't want to embarrass Kate by detailing how we've already seen this happening with her. In general, there is increased confidence and maturity and independence. Certainly that makes us feel affirmed.
       It's why the notion of "match" and "best fit" are so crucial in deciding upon a school. And no matter how excited any first-year student may be, surely doubts about something can creep in. But one thing I've realized is Bryn Mawr is very intentional in how they treat students. And in an opening assembly on move-in day, either President Kim Cassidy  or Dean of Admissions Peaches Valdes told the new students, "In our admissions office we don't make mistakes." From that moment through Family Weekend and I'm sure beyond, my daughter has felt affirmed. I'm confident other young women feel the same. While parental pride and satisfaction is certainly important, the young women feeling so as they enter adulthood is what really matters. There's the most valuable return on investment. 


Monique Cortez said...

When it come stop education and ROI I get a little skeptical. What is education really worth? Is the worth based on the job that is achieved after graduation. Is it based on the quality and applicability of the knowledge to be used in various situations. I absolutely believe in education but when combined with money, the worth gets tricky.

Monique Cortez @ CXM Marketing Group

Mark Crotty said...

Thanks for your comment, Monique. You've nailed the issue with the questions you post, and I could add many others. Something I saw yesterday pointed out part of the problem. (I forget the source.) It listed the twenty colleges in the US whose graduates have the lowest annual income five years and ten years after graduation. (We could get into all sorts of issues with accuracy, etc.) Most of those listed were some of the finest liberal arts colleges in the nation, including some that have been cited as Colleges that Change Lives.