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The consumer education

By Brad Wallace
Arizona Daily Wildcat
October 9, 1998
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Arizona Daily Wildcat

Brad Wallace

Parents, this one's for you. Here you are at family weekend, surrounded by a blitz of activities, cheering UA students and carefully marketed merchandise. You may suspect that the whole University is nothing more than a vast machine dedicated to extracting your money.

I wish I could assure you otherwise.

The bad news is that the University of Arizona is not going to be a benign protector of your children, providing virtually limitless opportunity for growth and exploration in exchange for dollars on a CatCard. Tuition will rise. The costs of dorms will rise. Your children will be hounded by credit card companies, banks and shady T-shirt vendors for the next four years.

In a sickening display of greed, class sizes are at all-time highs, and the odds are that your child will not have sufficient access to professors, but rather will be taught by underpaid graduate TA's, who simply do not have enough time to provide a thorough education in most areas. Counseling will be difficult to come by, and generally lacking in quality.

The Student Union is a mall in and of itself, and your children will have the opportunity to eat greasy, fat-laden food unless they want to pay outrageous prices for salad bars and fruit smoothies. The alternative is Top Ramen cooked in a dorm room, which is a just slightly slower way to kill yourself. I know that my college diet has probably robbed me of the opportunity to see my grandchildren.

All is not dismal, though. The university is not merely an attractive collection of red bricks. Inside it are some motivated teachers, dedicated to the enterprise of learning, who will struggle to educate your child. Likewise, the university setting draws an eclectic mix of people from every socioeconomic background imaginable, and this diversity enables relationships to be formed with a freedom available almost nowhere else in our stratified society. That is, if you're willing to push yourself beyond the comfortable and the familiar. Most people are.

With a college education comes an inevitable struggle for identity. Far from home, drugs, sex and rock 'n' roll will come to play an integral role in the adventure of self-definition. Some will find valuable lessons about their character, and some will destroy their lives.

Which brings me to dispelling a popular mistruth. People often say that college isn't the "real world." It's not. It's more important. Where else can the decisions made over the course of a semester have sweeping effects on the rest of your life? The opportunity to expand your mind and lose everything important come together in a way that certainly must give all you parents the creeping horrors at night. On an up note, it's not as bad as the '60s, just more cynical.

Your kids are going to make mistakes. There will be a party where too much is drank or smoked, and bad decisions will be made. At least one exam will be missed. Homework will be late. In the end though, what better skill is there to learn than how to deal with mistakes constructively? Four years of being a captive marketplace is certainly a fair trade for that lesson.

In the preceding three years here at the university, I've been lucky enough to encounter wonderful friends, fall in love, find out exactly who I think I am, and then find out that I was completely wrong. I wish the same for everyone else here, and encourage parents to relax, sit back and enjoy watching your kids stumble their way towards adulthood.

Make all checks payable to The University of Arizona.

Brad Wallace is a molecular and cellular biology senior and a regular Arizona Daily Wildcat columnist. He can be reached via email at Brad.Wallace@wildcat.arizona.edu.