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I have started visiting colleges with my daughter who is entering her senior year in high school. Now I know she can get an outstanding education at Hofstra but I also know she is looking for an experience away from home. At the end of the process, the choice will hopefully be the college or university that is the best fit with her capabilities, her interests, and her ambitions. Over the years, first as dean and then my 25 years as provost, I have delivered hundreds of admissions speeches to potential students and their families. However, when you are at the other side of the table, the view is somewhat different and the conversations I have been having with other parents are also very different.

First and foremost, facilities matter tremendously.  Impressive science buildings, business school buildings, health clubs, buildings across the board, all make a tremendous difference. Potential students and their families appreciate the tangible assets of the campus and also focus on how the campus comes together. On-campus housing for residential campuses also matter.  From crowding into a typical (but unusually neat) residence hall room, asking about the bathrooms, the AC controls, closet space, laundry facilities, meal plans, living environment is without question a very important concern. And unfortunately, health and fitness clubs may now receive more attention on these tours than the library facilities. As an educator, I recognize the importance of health clubs but the centrality of the library is a key ingredient in any college or universit

Parents also ask, as they should, multiple questions regarding campus safety.  Not only the campus itself but also the neighborhood. The role of a public safety force and the presence of blue light phones are important ingredients in creating that feeling of safety and comfort.

Rankings do get attention but they have become so ubiquitous that every institution seems to be able to highlight multiple rankings that demonstrate the quality of the institution as a whole or various parts of the institution.Now clearly some rankings are more important or more valid than others but there is such an overload of information that is difficult to discern the actual relevance of many of these rankings. The rankings certainly matter but parent and potential student attention don’t seem overly focused on these indicators and don’t seem to ask many ranking related questions.  

The number of majors gets considerable attention almost everywhere given the recognition that a change of major is a distinct possibility. Experiential learning and post-graduation earnings are also receiving a lot of attention everywhere and both parents and potential students seem very focused on both these real world opportunities and these outcomes.

If you believe as I do, that the heart of a campus is the faculty, the campus tour experience especially during summer and also during weekends is somewhat disappointing. Not only are the faculty not present in significant numbers, but the importance of their role does not seem to get the prominence that it should. Parents and potential students look at the tangible but do they remember that in any education, teachers and professors are key to maximizing learning?

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.


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