Policy Wonk Critiques College Orientation For His Child

By Dr. Watson Scott Swail, President & CEO, Educational Policy Institute

About a month ago, I was privileged to participate in the annual “college orientation” indoctrination process at a major public institution. My middle son is off to college in a few weeks, and, for our part, we were to visit the institution, he was to stay over the night, and I was to hang out at the campus for a day and a half.

[Editor's Note: Please understand. This piece is not meant to serve as a diatribe about how awful or how great this orientation was. It was both. I simply want to offer some thoughts on how the process impacted me, given my background as a policy wonk and a parent. I also don’t want to come off as overly negative about the process. I could certainly write both sides. But I do want to point out some things that surprised, if not astonished, me during orientation, many of which are negative. So there is my front-loaded mea culpa.]

Those of us in the higher education world understand that the theory behind the orientation process is to acclimatize students and family members to the institution, leaving everyone with a little less vagueness, unfamiliarity, and, hopefully, less anxiousness about the transition process. After 18 years, your son or daughter will go away, far from your protection, and you are paying another institution to take care of them with the same kindness, appreciation, and wall of safety that you provided. And all the while you’re trying to convince yourself of that, you clearly understand that part of you will leave, either never to come back, or never come back the same. Those are the only two realities. It’s truly heartbreaking.

This was one of approximately 10 separate orientation “weekends” (they actually aren’t on a weekend, but that’s essentially what they are) held at this university for approximately 7,000 new students. At this session, there must have been over 700 students and over 1,400 people in attendance. The university had specially-printed programs for this particular orientation, although they handed out the wrong ones to the participants and had to exchange them later for the correct programs. This was important because the schedules for the two were completely different.

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