Wednesday, August 22, 2007


I am so mad I could spit.

Two weeks ago the HR office (about 10 states away from here) from my wife's company mailed out their yearly request for verification of my daughter Kristina's status as a full-time college student, as she is over 17 and therefore not eligible for coverage under their health insurance unless she's a full-time college student. We couldn't get the verification at the time because the semester hadn't started, but we weren't worried since school started on the 16th and the deadline for turning in the verification wasn't until the 24th. Plan A: the normal way to obtain this verification is to request it over the university's web site. So, on the 17th we went to the web site and requested the verification, but the most current information was for the (since finished) summer semester. Nothing to show she was registered, paid, and attending classes for the current semester. Enter plan B: I drive down on the following Monday to talk to the registrars office in person to explain our delimma. I meet my daughter and we go in together. We are told that the web site isn't updated with information about the current semester until drop/add is over, but not to worry, fill out this form and it will be processed in 2 to 3 business days (she actually said business days!). So my daughter goes in today (2nd business day) and is told that she cannot get a verification letter until at least tomorrow, probably the next day as the information won't be in their computer until at least then.

never mind that their computer knows she's fully paid for the semester and never mind that her schedule is in their computer showing she's taking a full load, apparently the computer in the registrars office doesn't talk to the computer in the financial aid department. This lady doesn't care about health insurance, doesn't care about my daughter or her problems. If it isn't in her computer, there is nothing she can do. I am driving down again tomorrow and see if I cannot make her care.

you know, these days going to college is all about the internet. You can apply to the school and be accepted (or be rejected) on-line, apply and receive (or be rejected) financial aid on-line, register for classes on-line, your advisor review and release your schedule on-line and show up for classes (which are sometimes on-line) all without ever having talked to a person. How efficient. When I went to college you had to fill out a paper application, mail it in, and then be interviewed by someone in admissions before you were accepted (or rejected) by the school. You then filled out LOTS of forms for financial aid and then sit down to talk to someone in the financial aid office before you got (or was rejected for) financial aid. You then had to actually, honest-to-god, MEET with your advisor - who actually talked to you about your wants and needs, career and life goals, who then actually ADVISED you as to what degree to try for, what classes to take (and at least for your freshman year) had to sign a piece of paper to show they had advised you and approved your classes. You then had to go through the circus of signing up for classes (1000 students in a hot sweaty gym running around to different tables to sign up for each class hoping there were seats available by the time you reached the front of the line - but sometimes you could talk the professor into letting you in even if the class were full if you REALLY needed the class THAT QUARTER or you wouldn't be able to graduate on time.

There were people in the process who's job it was to evaluate each student individually, taking into account each's needs. After all, college is about teaching people, right?

but not today. today it's all on-line, fill out this web-form and wait for an email.

Several years ago, when my son was a freshman at this same university, he was hospitalized for a week, and had to spend two weeks at home recovering. While he was in the hospital I called his advisor and told her about his situation. She sent her best wishes, said not to worry about classes right now, for him to contact her when he was able to go back to school. 3 weeks later he calls her to ask what he needed to do about the missed time and she didn't even know who he was. He was listed in the university's system as withdraw-fail for not showing up for classes. I called her and asked what was going on, she told me that when I called she thought he was a student in one of her classes (which he wasn't), that it wasn't her responsibility to let his other professors know about his hospitalization and subsequently not attending classes - it was my son's. So I then go to see the dean of students, who was the first (and) last person I talked to there who took a personal interest in my son. While she couldn't override the departmental head's decisions regarding my son's status in their classes, she did call and personally speak to them letting them know why he was out. Each department then worked with my son, letting each of his professors know why he was out and in each case they let him resume classes and worked with him to make up missed classwork and tests. The Dean of students had shown me that someone did care, that there were people dedicated to the kids and not just drawing a paycheck, that this was truly an institution of learning and not some unfeeling corporation with limited resources and a bottom line to consider above all else.

and then this stuff happened. (I didn't even tell you about the parent loan application I submitted to cover room & board for this year. I was afraid I'd pop a vein if I continued the rant. more stuff to straighten out tomorrow.)

I have always revered education. it is your path out of ignorance, an opportunity for you to grow as a person and to gain the knowledge to improve yourself. I have always held academic institutions in the highest regard, special places where kids are allowed to finish growing up and be launched into adulthood. When I went to college I was made to feel like they were there for me, to help me be whoever I wanted to be. I envied my children when they started college, here was their turn to have that experience. Instead, it's one gigantic faceless bureauocracy. hell, that's just like work.

13 deeply creased, dogeared comment(s):

Rachel said...

Man, Bob, I'm sorry you're going through all this bullshit! I dont want to give you pladitudes, but thats all I got for you. As the student population grows, Universities meet the added pressures by pursuing effeicency,a nd that means less individual consideration. It totally sucks.

All I can say is hang in there, it'll straighten out eventually.


Bob said...

thanks. I am sure we will work something out.

yet another irritation - they've instituted one of those automated phone menu systems this year - all in the name of increased efficiency (interpreted: not paying students minimum wage to answer the phone anymore).

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Bob. That's terrible, but your kids are lucky they've got you running the gauntlet.

I had a very bad experience with a "counselor" when I was applying for Grad school. I'd say it changed the course of my life, but screw that, I don't want to accord him that much importance anymore.

liv said...

All I really want to say is that I know you mean business because of the length of your post. I can feel your frustration. I'm not even going to go into what's going down in these parts!!!

Bob said...

De - sorry about your poor experience too. Seems like it's harder & harder to find anyone who gives a damn about anyone but themselves these days.

Liv - I don't blame you for not getting buried in my rant, not when you've got your own problems. I sincerely hope things get better for you soon.

patches said...

I applaud you. Learning institutions rival the government with inefficient, egomaniacal, bureaucratic, red tape. Higher education has become more preoccupied with statistics than actual learning.

I hope you get things straightened out soon.

Bob said...

Patches - it didn't used to be that way, or at least it didn't at the colleges I attended. Things are almost all fixed now. Thanks.

Mother of Invention said...

That is such a bummer, especially when you want your children to have the good experience at college that you did. In so many ways, technology fails us on a personal level. It's a real loss.

I graduated in '76 and I actually got to form a relationship with most of my profs which made my education there much more meaningful.

amusing said...

I punched my fist in the air with a "yeah! You tell it, Bob!" twice there.

Computers are fabulous, but computers are hell. Good lord, the numbers of things that can't be done now "because it's in the computer that way" or "the computers are down." Curse a blue streak on that one.

And the "business" of education is just too frighteningly evident these days. Having just finished my degree, I can tell you that from here it seems much more about grinding us through, getting our tuition payments rather than really making sure we got what we needed for our money and effort. Minimum guidance. (I put a name down as an advisor, but from the casual conversations, got the distinct impression he had no guidance for me, so I never met with him. And I should have been forced to meet with him by some rule. He should have guilted me into coming in.) Blah, blah, blah. Yeah, We get wound up about this stuff.

Could you work the other way? Call the insurance company and ask (I'm assuming you can get this easily at this point?) if you could [FOR NOW] submit her fall schedule (which ought to be on the college website, yes?) as a sort of placeholder proof of matriculation and then as soon as you can get the REAL document from the crazeee college, then you will send that along post-haste? (You can even use "post-haste" ; sounds kind of collegey, don't it?)

Bob said...

MoI - I remember in-depth discussions with my advisor on what direction I should go based on what my aspirations were. Imagine that, my advisor actually advised me.

Amusing - so many people use computers as an excuse for not doing their job.

I guess professors have much more important things to do (publish) than to teach or advise students. I am sorry to hear your experience is similar to my son's (and pretty much my daughter's too) with his advisor. I'm thinking of going back and it makes me wonder where the hell I'm going to go for advice.

urban-urchin said...

Well shit- they'll be totally prepared for corporate life after their freshman year.

Sorry Bob- hope it all gets worked out soon and that there are no glitches in coverage or any of that nonsense- because God knows those insurance companies are worse than any college when it comes to red tape....

Bob said...

uu - yeah, but what an introduction.

we were able to work it out, and the insurance & financial aid issues were resolved.

amusing said...

Yay! Glad it all worked out in the end.

If you go back, I actually found that the most helpful folk were the people from the "real world" brought in to teach as opposed to the academic professionals. (Not all of them -- some of them have no clue how to teach, and don't know how to advise either...)