“Somewhere along the line we’ve failed students. We haven’t listened to them enough. We’ve told them what to say and how to say it, but we haven’t listened.” – Lacy Crawford
Lacy Crawford was an independent college counselor for fifteen years. Her specialty was helping wealthy families get their children into elite universities. During this time she was also “coming of age” herself, going to graduate school, bouncing around working in different non-profits, living in San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and London.
Her novel, Early Decision, basically tells her story and the stories of many of the families she worked with over the fifteen year period. It follows five Chicago-area high school students from August to January, as they enter the competitive college admission process. But the book is about much more. In an interview, Crawford explains her motivation for writing:
“I began to write Early Decision to understand how thoughtful, dedicated parents can be so driven by fear of their children’s futures that they are willing to place enormous value in a system that is reductive with regard to character, and that is, if taken to its current extremes, harmful to a child’s development.”
Crawford is a gifted writer. Her writing style and story-telling ability, alone, make the book a delight to read. That she cares deeply about her students and youth culture, as evidenced in the quote above, gives the book added value, especially for those who desire to see young people grow into healthy adulthood.
If you are a person who cares about youth and families as well, perhaps a parent, teacher, coach, pastor or youth leader of some kind, here are three reasons why you should read this book:
First, the novel exposes the competitive nature of the college admission process and the place of “college” within American culture. The main theme of the book is college, after all. But, of course, college is about much more than a degree or even an education. For many, it is about status. It’s about future ambitions and a symbol of success.
While the book does focus on the elites (elite families trying to push their kids into elite schools), all parents and youth workers will be able to relate to these wealthy families in some way. The parents want what they think is “best” for their child. They have the means to provide resources to get what they want. But the book should give us pause, no matter our financial situation, because it forces us to ask bigger, better questions about the place of “college” in our culture. What is college for? Why do we send our young people to college? What are good reasons for going to college? Do teenagers we know and love even want to go to college? How should we define success and the “good” life? If asking these kinds of questions makes you uncomfortable, don’t read Early Decision!
Second, the novel is about the relationship between parents and teenagers. More specifically, Crawford does a masterful job at helping the reader see why it is often so difficult for parents and teenagers to have meaningful conversations. Parents are scared their kids won’t succeed in life. Teenagers are terrified to fail and not live up to parental expectations. While reading Early Decision, I was constantly reminded of Chap Clark’s important ongoing research and book Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers. Clark’s research has shown that the defining issue for contemporary adolescents is “systemic abandonment.” Parents can be over-involved in the wrong things, and un-involved in the right things, both at the same time! Clark writes:
“We have evolved to the point where we believe driving is support, being active is love, and providing any and every opportunity is selfless nurture. We are a culture that has forgotten how to be together.”
At one point in the story, Crawford’s narrator makes a keen observation:
“Something came into clearer focus about the way the [wealthy family] had raised their girl, about the gifts they had attempted to give her, while overlooking the most ordinary things: taking her to visit refugee camps, for example, though they were never home for supper. As though they had taught her hand gliding while neglecting that boring bit about walking.”
Crawford is able to write in a way that is critical but not cynical. Her protagonist often empathizes with the parents’ primary concern (wanting what is best for their kids) while exposing the deeper pain the culture of achievement and abandonment has wrought. This makes the satire and criticism even more persuasive and ultimately more scathing. No one is innocent here. After reading this book, we all are forced to (re)assess our priorities and do a better job listening to our kids.
Early Decision is about as good as it gets. The subject is important, the characters are authentic, the dialogue is believable, and the metaphors and analogies are literary without being snobby. I highly recommend it and anxiously await another novel from Ms. Crawford.
On Saturday, the College Transition Initiative launched a new seminar to help families with college planning. We gathered at the Shady Maple Banquet Center in Lancaster County, PA. I presented a biblical vision for college and my good friends Terry Evearitt and Matt Reitnour shared from their expertise in college financing and college admission. We have received positive feedback from those who attended. Judging from the amount of emails I’ve received from across the country desiring more information about the seminar, this topic is on the minds of many people.
Unfortunately, the seminar was not recorded. We are still trying to figure out the best way to make this information available to a wider audience. We are considering a webinar as well as thinking through other locations to host an event. Please contact me if you have any suggestions or questions about making this seminar available in your area.
To recap, here are a few big takeaways from the seminar:
First, the admissions process is changing, and changing fast. The economic climate in which we live has many people questioning the value and worth of a college degree; colleges and universities are becoming more and more expensive each year; and there are more and more ways to obtain a college degree. Now, more than ever, we need to seek out a variety of wise counselors and college options to make a wise decision.
Second, debt is a major problem facing students today and we need to take it seriously… BUT, debt should not be our only concern when making a college choice. College is about more than getting a degree to get a job (although that is certainly an important aspect to consider). College is also about character and spiritual formation. There is a financial cost to college, for sure, but there are other costs to consider as well. What kind of person do you want to be? With whom will you surround yourself during these formative years? How should we, as Christians, define success? Taking these questions into account should help us to re-frame the “college choice” conversation and help us to think “Christianly” about life after high school.
Third, we can’t be afraid to envision different college scenarios as legitimate next steps for high school grads. We can’t get too locked in to thinking that every student must go to a residential college, to obtain a bachelor’s degree, immediately after high school. For some students, this is still a wise life path. For others, especially those with financial concerns and/or confusion about where to go or what to study, other options are available. All of the speakers discussed the benefits of taking time off before going to college, exploring community college and trade school options, and considering an intentional gap year program.
Most importantly, we were reminded of the value of communication. Every student and every family needs to create space to have more meaningful conversations about life after high school. My hope and prayer is that the College Choice Seminar was used to that end.
“I never would have thought much about how God fit into my plans for college. I would have just gone to class and tried to graduate.”
This was said to me last week by a student, shortly after a talk I gave at Brice’s Creek Bible Church in New Bern, North Carolina. The student’s words were so clear and compelling, I thought he was reading from a script. I even looked over his shoulder to see if someone was behind him telling him exactly what to say to me to encourage me the most! The student continued:
“My head is really spinning. You really have me thinking. The thought never occurred to me that I could serve God or follow Jesus with a career in math and accounting. You’ve given me a whole new way to look at my faith and what I should be doing now to prepare.”
I spend a good amount of time speaking to teenagers, so hearing any kind of feedback is always encouraging. This student really seemed to “get it.” And, as my high school teacher friends like to tell me, if one student says something, he or she is probably speaking for many more students in the room. I hope so!
How does God or faith or the Gospel fit into plans for college? This question is at the heart of the College Transition Initiative (CTI), and it will be at the center of several talks I will be giving this week. Here’s the busy CTI schedule… I hope to see you there! Prayers appreciated.
Monday, October 7: College Fair, Lancaster, PA (details)
Tuesday, October 8: College Fair, Milton, PA (details)
Thursday, October 10: College Fair, Old Bridge, NJ (details)
Saturday, October 12: College Choice Seminar, East Earl, PA (details)
“The rate at which borrowers of federal student loans default on their debt within two years after beginning repayment rose for the sixth consecutive year, reaching its highest level since 1995, according to data released Monday by the Education Department.”
The last thing I want to do is be all “doom and gloom,” as if I’m trying to scare people into coming to a seminar or something. Would that work? Maybe I do want to do that! But the sad reality is that too many families are making bad decisions concerning college debt and many of those bad decisions can be avoided by asking better questions about life after high school. What is the true cost and value of a college education? Is it possible to go to college without going into debt? What are the best strategies for financially planning for college?
The College Choice Seminar will seek to answer these questions (and more!) on October 12 in Lancaster, PA. CPYU’s College Transition Initiative continues to strive to provide resources for helping students and parents make wise decisions about life after high school.
In addition to the new seminar, here are a few more resources to help you in your college planning.
“Graduate from high school. Go to college. Get a job.
Many teenagers feel that is the path they are expected to travel. Times have changed, however, and today’s teens are likewise changing the way they look at their future. Many parents feel unequipped to join their teen in that new vision.
The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding (CPYU) recognizes that parents feel at a loss when it comes to college planning for the next generation. CPYU’s College Transition Initiative (CTI) seeks to help parents navigate this period in their teen’s life so that they can make wise decisions. The CTI provides seminars, books, articles, expert interviews, and events that shed much-needed light on preparing for college from a Christian perspective.
Parents and their college-curious teens are invited to CPYU’s upcoming CTI seminar, titled, ‘The College Choice: Faith, Family, and Finances,’ taking place at Shady Maple Banquet Center, 129 Toddy Drive, East Earl, on Saturday, Oct. 12, from 8:30 a.m. to noon. Registration is available online at www.cpyu.org or by calling 717-361-8429. Separate prices have been set for individuals and for families.
According to CTI director Derek Melleby, everything is different about preparing for college in today’s financial climate. ‘The financial cost has changed, obviously,’ Melleby pointed out. ‘Job prospects for college graduates are something that has changed in the last decade as well…
“Students seem to have no idea what they are getting into.”
My neighbor’s son was recently visiting home after spending a day speaking to classes at his alma mater. He was asked to talk to current college students about his work and how his time in college prepared him for a career in finance. Before diving into the topic at hand, he asked the students about how they were paying for college and how much debt they were accumulating. The above comment was the beginning of our recent, eye-opening conversation on my front porch.
Students have no idea? My neighbor made three helpful observations from his day with college students… First, he was alarmed to discover that the school he attended less than 10 years ago now costs $46,000 a year. He had no idea that the cost had risen so much since he was a student. Second, he was shocked to learn that most students didn’t seem to realize how difficult it would be to pay off that kind of debt in the current economy. (And these were students studying business and finance!) Third, he was disappointed to realize that he seemed to be the only person bringing this up with the students.
I wanted to make sure I was hearing him correctly. Here’s the summary I offered: “So, students are accumulating massive amounts of debt, the job prospects are bleak and no one, before you, has pointed this out to the students?”
Bill Bennett’s introduction should be heard by all students and parents entering the college planning process. No matter what side of the political aisle you are on (and yes, Dr. Bennett is most often associated with the “right”), you should not avoid asking good questions about the value and worth of a 4-year college degree, especially in this economy. At one point during the panel discussion, Ohio University economics professor Richard Vedder makes this observation: “Colleges are too costly; students are learning too little; and employment prospects for graduates are increasingly dismal.” That should, at the very least, give us pause.
Please do take time to watch this short video, read the book and let the conversation begin!
It is because countless conversations like the one yesterday on my front porch and the publication of important books like Is College Worth It? that has motivated me to host the new CTI seminar “The College Choice: Faith, Family & Finances” on October 12 in Lancaster, PA. College costs are going up, students are going into crippling debt and I’m convinced that we need to have better conversations about life after high school. I hope to see you there!
CPYU’s College Transition Initiative began in 2005. For the last eight years, I’ve had the opportunity to speak to groups of students and parents about how to be prepared for and make the most of life after high school. Recently, I’ve noticed a shift in the way families talk about higher education. Here’s a story that captures what I mean…
A few years ago I was speaking in Houston, TX. During one of the breaks a father and his son hurried over to talk to me. The dad stood behind his son, his hands on his son’s shoulders and his plea went something like this:
“Please tell me what to do with my son. We don’t have a clue. Everything has changed! When I was growing up, this is how it worked. I grew up in California. During my junior year of high school, the guidance counselor took the initiative and told me, based on my interests and academic ability, that I should consider a career in engineering. I went to a state university, for free, got a degree in engineering and I’ve been an engineer at the same company for over 25 years. Now my son is entering the college admission’s process and it seems so confusing! He doesn’t know what to study or where to go. He’s has received very little help from his school. We receive mail from colleges every day. We really don’t know how we can afford it. Make sense of it for me!”
He smiled after the last sentence. He knew I couldn’t possibly provide all of the information he needed during a five minute break. But this conversation has stuck with me. Since that day, I’ve wanted to provide a seminar for students and parents to help them “make sense” of the college planning and admission’s process.
The times have changed… Think about this father’s story: A guidance counselor knew him well enough to help him in the process. He went to college FOR FREE! He got a job in his field shortly after he graduated. He has been working for the same company for over 25 years.
This scenario is no longer the norm. But the other parts of his story are now very common: His son isn’t sure what he wants to study, where he wants to go and the father has no idea how to pay for college! Sound familiar?
The seminar has three goals… Participants will gain:
A biblical vision for making the most of these years
A clearer understanding of the cost/value of college
A wise approach to the college admission’s process
This seminar is for students, parents, educators and youth workers looking for resources for making better decisions about life after high school. The seminar will be beneficial whether you are early (parents of middle schoolers) or late (parents of high school seniors) in the college planning process. I hope to see you there!