Thursday, January 08, 2015



Higher ed folks: would you send your kid to your college?

In high-tech circles, they’ve coined a verb -- “dogfooding” -- for the mandate that people who work at a company use its product.  It’s based on the old line about “eating your own dog food.”  It’s why people at Microsoft have to use Surface tablets, instead of ipads, or why you don’t see many Toyotas in the parking lot at Ford headquarters.  The idea is that you’ll understand your product better if you add the user’s perspective to the producer’s perspective.

Within higher education, dogfooding is often vicarious.  College faculty and administrators typically already have degrees.  Some go back for doctorates, but that’s a very different experience than undergraduate education.  But sometimes they send their kids to college, and suddenly gain the perspective of the student’s parent.

I’ve spoken to a few of those over the last couple of years.  It’s illuminating.

Several professors have mentioned, separately,that they never really paid attention to book costs until their kids started reporting/passing along what they had to pay.  When you get the bill yourself, the abstract suddenly becomes concrete.  Any individual book may seem reasonable enough, but when you add them up over a full courseload, the total can be alarming.  

But the processes are the most revealing part.  Suddenly seeing registration, advising, and financial aid processes from the student side can be bracing.  From the inside, it’s easy to fill in the gaps with the accumulated knowledge of years.  But from the outside, when you don’t have that knowledge, the gaps suddenly loom large.  That perspective can go a long way in shaping process improvements, when someone is in a position to translate.

When colleges launch capital campaigns, it’s common for serious donors to ask how many members of the board of trustees contributed.  I’m wondering if it might be useful to show what percentage of faculty and staff with children older than high school age sent their kid to the college where they work.  Presumably, if none do, that’s a bad sign.

I’m not saying that everybody should, of course.  People don’t give up their right to choose a college when they work at one, any more than they give up their right to vote when they take a public sector job.  No college, no matter how good, is right for every student.  When I looked for a college for myself, one of my non-negotiables was that it had to be too far from home to commute.  That wasn’t a reflection on the quality of anything nearby; I just wanted out.  I’m not suggesting denying anyone else the same freedom I had.  

But given how many students stay within, say, an hour of home when choosing a college, it might be interesting to publish statistics on the percentage of employee families who eat their own dog food.

Since public disclosure is all the rage, do you think it would be helpful if colleges of a certain size published statistics on employee dependents who attend?

My husband didn't go to the school where his parents taught but he did take one summer course. He still talks about the awkward 4th of July picnic where he and his professor attended. He wanted to get away from being Dr so and Dr So's kid. It had nothing to do with quality of education as much as letting the child grow into their own.
No, because the last thing we need is pressure from admin to send our kids to our own institution.

And how would this account for the academic level of a place? There's arguably a bigger gap between that than there is between tablets or family cars.

You can be a great teacher at a somewhat low institution. While you believe in and support the mission of the place, you might not want your kids to go there.
My husband earned 2.75 degrees from my college, after we got married... I saw lots of processes from the student's side, and I gained a lot of insight.

Also, one colleague's wife took a class in my discipline, and just told me he is astonished at the llevel of work demanded... He told me he thinks most of his own students couldn't do it...I told him I use similar texts and that's standard for our field... e
Your original post, and the reader comments touch on a number of valid reasons why a kid might not want to attend the school at which Mom or Dad teaches. I'll add another: cost.

After a long college search Kid No. 1, who is both an academic and extracurricular rock star, was accepted at a number of fine schools, both public and private. Many of them (including our local "flagship" public) did not offer enough aid to make attendance possible. On the other hand, the SLAC in the Midwest did, Kid No. 1 is happy and thriving, but is nowhere near M & D.
YOUR kids? It should start at the top. My Dean's kid showed up in my class one year.
My kids could have gone to my institution free. (Newer employees no longer get such a sweet deal, although it's still a bargain, but I've been there 37 years and things were more generous in the '70s.) they were adamant about being away from Rochester (I was the same, as it seems you were, so I totally get that.) Still, I kind of forced them to take the prospective student campus tour, just so they'd know what they were passing up. They knew my institution from my perspective, but they were struck by how much more there was outside of my little corner. They still chose Massachusetts (not far from you, actually) and Pittsburgh.

Lots of my colleagues' kids do choose to attend, though. It's a very good school, with a great reputation, and the cost to faculty kids makes it pretty hard to pass up.
No. No. Bad idea. Because college "kids" are actually adults. They get to pick where they go. And it's more likely than not that they will have all kinds of reasons, beyond "it's not a good enough school" for not wanting to attend where mom or dad teaches. Starting with the fact that mom or dad teaches there, and young adults have a real and valid need to form their own independent identities away from parental supervision. This would be so unfair to those young adults, if their parents actually succeeded in picking their college for them, and so unfair to those parents, if they didn't.

A much less important reason why it might not be a good idea: I'm not sure I wouldn't rather go to a community college where the offspring of most of the faculty goes to ivy league schools. Sure, it implies there might be some class issues at play between the students and the faculty, but it would also imply that most of the faculty is likely is composed of heavy-hitting academics, and that's exactly what I'd want.

Our CC has an honors program that succeeds in preparing students for our flagship (University of Illinois)for pretty much any major. If any given CC can't do that, it will miss out on faculty kids who have normal middle class aspirations. The CC's in Chicago, for example, have a hard time doing that. Not that they don't send some students on to UIUC; just that the road is not clear or smooth.
Mildly tangential....but buying textbooks is for the birds. I stopped my freshman year of college and have never had a problem since. Am now into the third year of my Phd and haven't suffered for it. Libraries are your friend. 99% of the stuff you find in one textbook can be found in another free one at your library and the benefits of getting multiple perspectives from multiple writers far out weighs getting the one perspective that the assigned textbook will provide.
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