• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.

Title

Sneaking Through Open House

Secret shopping as a random parent.

 

November 5, 2018
 
 

Open Houses make for great eavesdropping.

Brookdale had its Fall Open House on Sunday. The weather couldn’t have been better, and the leaves were at their peak. (I don’t entirely understand the cultural equation of “autumnal” and “academic,” but I’ll take it.) Professors and staff from around the college put up displays on tables all over campus, and answered student questions, often showing off the relevant facility.

I went as a secret shopper, like I usually do.

The trick to being a good secret shopper is that you have to blend in. In this case, I wasn’t trying to hide from the faculty and staff, who recognized me easily.  I was trying to blend in with parents, so I could get a sense of the conversations among them. That meant trying to pass as a middle-aged suburban dad.

Reader I nailed it.

Admittedly, it didn’t take much acting. The Boy is a senior in high school, and doing college tours now, so I’ve had some recent practice. We’re even doing another one at the end of this week. He couldn’t come with me on this one, though, so I had to try to look like a random parent.

I heard more talk of student loans than in the past.  Judging by the chatter, it’s very much top-of-mind. I also heard a fair bit of “it’s nicer than when I went here,” suggesting some family loyalty.  Community colleges have never gotten into the “legacy” game -- being open-admissions makes it sort of moot -- but it’s not weird to have children of past students attend.  More so than with other sectors of higher ed, our graduates tend to stay local, so it’s unsurprising that many would raise kids here. As we ramp up our “development” game, this may be worth some attention.

Wandering the campus, I saw long lines at the tables for financial aid info and the Rutgers transfer program.  In the academic area, I saw long lines at the Criminal Justice, Education, Nursing, Engineering, Fashion, and Culinary tables.  (Admittedly, Culinary had the advantage of serving hot food.) Alas, Political Science didn’t have the same kind of traffic. You’d think, with all that’s going on…

The general rule seemed to be that if it looked like a job, it did very well. 

Politics generally remains a hard sell. A few weeks ago I had a brief conversation with a journalism professor who lamented the relative lack of interest among her students in political journalism. Apparently, fashion journalism is the hot thing now, even more than just a few years ago. I had to admit that I wouldn’t have thought of that. She was perplexed at the relative lack of interest in business journalism, given that it’s as close to a hot employment area as journalism gets.  We have plenty of students interested in business, and some in journalism, but relatively little overlap between the two. I don’t know why. I’d be interested in hearing from wise and worldly readers whether that trend holds in other places, or is just a local quirk.

During the opening gathering, when the president referred to students who are trying to figure out what they want to do, I saw a lot of parental heads nodding in the audience.  Better to find your way at $5k per year than at $50k per year. That one transcends politics.

My thanks to everyone who participated in Open House. And a tip to my counterparts elsewhere -- if you get a chance, put on your civilian clothes and wander your own college’s Open House sometime.  It’s worth it.
 

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