Fourteenth in a series on what to look for in college.
During the ‘Your Community, Your University’ Tours, visits to high schools in the Panhandle and South Plains—daytime visits while school was in session—had a larger number of students present. Evening sessions were a more equal mix of students and parents, administrators, school board members and other elected and appointed officials. Local school boards provide vision, accountability, policy, community leadership and relationships, according to the National School Boards Association. That was unmistakable in Childress.
The Childress crowd was small. It was after the dinner hour. The number of school board members present was impressive. While many elected officials of every stripe have an impact on family life in our communities, state and nation, school boards reflect and affect everything from community values to property values. Of equal importance, they impact student achievement according to the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. School Boards are the political kettles in which local policy regarding families and their offspring are simmered out. It’s serious business.
Locally elected leadership in public education embody aspiration for an affirmative future. Great schools are the progeny of great leadership. This is true of the school board that impacts decision-making and policies directing educational offerings. Attend a monthly school board meeting; sense the passion, engagement and seriousness with which most school boards deliberate issues and make decisions. See what happens. Participate. Otherwise, shame on you, not them.
Passion was palpable on January 17, 2017, in Childress. People were engaged. Families had questions. I distinctly remember a mother and daughter approached me after the formal presentation to talk about the young lady’s acceptance into both West Texas A&M University and Texas Tech University. They were undecided and candid with me about it. They were in a bit of a stew over it. I told them, “Both Texas Tech and WT would provide an excellent campus experience. WTAMU has a lower sticker price while TTU has more scholarship opportunities.”
I appreciated the predicament, but I also had a simple solution: “When the president of Texas Tech comes to visit your school, share your dilemma with him and do whatever he says; however, if the president from Texas Tech doesn’t come to visit and personally engage you in conversation, then the young lady should probably come to WTAMU.” Student and Mom laughed, concurred and waited.
There were a few things that impressed me about this discussion. It was clear that the mother and daughter were in this together, and that they were going to make a carefully considered decision. This was not a case of helicopter parenting, but an adult discussion about what might be best for the student and family—particularly important when selecting a college for traditional-age college students. In addition, both the mother and daughter were engaged with the school board. They listened attentively and participated in the give-and-take of the evening’s conversation.
People from every walk of life appreciate the cost/value of the college experience. Additionally, people from those same walks of life understand the asphyxiating impact of the increasing costs and debt burdens of a college education. The intersection of cost and value must be attended to by all. A wave of the hand and a response that college is always a good investment is disingenuous at best. It is generally true, but generalities don’t borrow money—individuals do. Borrowing increases as costs increase. Or do costs increase as availability of borrowed funds proliferate? Either way, that which is borrowed is under more scrutiny now than at any time in the history of higher education.
If considering a university where cost and value are not carefully attended to, or student and family concerns are overridden by a sales pitch, or an attitude from the university is perceived to be, “Don’t worry, we know what’s best,” visit another campus—live or virtually.
Look for an institution that emulates Childress with a genuine concern for individual students and their families.
Walter V. Wendler is President of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns are available at http://walterwendler.com/.