Information for the parents of college students
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Book Review: 25 Ways to Make College Pay Off

From time to time, we like to review some of the books available for parents of college students.  There is a wealth of literature available to help parents cope with the transition to college and the changes that occur throughout the college years.  We’ve created a Resources and Tools page and there is something for everyone.

This review takes a look at Professor Bill Coplin’s book 25 Ways to Make College Pay Off. The book’s subtitle is Advice for Anxious Parents from a Professor Who’s Seen It All. One basic premise of the book, as Professor Coplin states in the preface is, “. . . students don’t seem to know how to get the most out of their college educations.  Parents paying the freight need to provide guidance to their children on how to make the college years pay off.”  This premise is an important one, and this book gives parents much information and support for helping their students.  Parents reading the book should be especially pleased to see the “What Parents Can Do” section at the end of each chapter.  Professor Coplin gives specific strategies for how parents can implement many of the suggestions that he makes in each chapter.  Another wonderful feature of the book is the list of specific, relevant resources at the end of each chapter.  For parents who are interested in helping their college student, this book may prove to be just a jumping off point.

Professor Coplin begins his book with a broad view before beginning to break down his suggestions into specific topics.  Coplin suggests that motivated college students should pursue three goals in college if they want to be on a successful career track.  These goals are to develop skills, build character, and explore careers.  Laying this foundation for students can help both parents and students see the big picture.

25 Ways to Make College Pay Off can be a valuable and useful book for college parents.  Its specificity and strategies will help parents to help their students.  However, parents who read this book may be surprised, and some may disagree, with the business approach that the author takes to the parent/college student relationship, as well as the insistence that college is primarily a preparation for a career.  With the cost of higher education so steep, these two approaches are becoming more prevalent.

According to Professor Coplin, “Your relationship with your child, his career mission, and his college experience is best approached by thinking of yourself as an investor and your child as the principal of the business that is the target of your investment. . . When it comes to helping your child make the transition to a self-supporting and satisfying adult, the investor model makes the most sense.”  He takes the point further in a later discussion of FERPA and access to information.  “You should establish at the outset that you are to receive all information as a condition of your financial support.  Require your child to give you access to her information about courses and grades on the college website.  Establishing this as a nonnegotiable requirement as early as possible will save you a lot of trouble in the future. . . You need to fight this battle before he goes to college.  Access to information is access to power.  If you get into a power struggle over this question, you will have serious problems down the road on many college and nonrelated subjects. . . Paying tuition isn’t a gift; it’s a business deal and business means having access to costs and performance.”

Although some parts of this arrangement may make sense, we’re not entirely comfortable with the model of the business partnership in the parent/college student relationship, or the strong emphasis on career as the sole goal of a college education.  We are more comfortable with a somewhat more relational model between parents and students.  We would also rather see students have the “power” over their information – and in a more equal partnership with parents.  If some of the goals of the college experience are growth, increasing maturity, and independence, the ownership of “power” is an important factor. Obviously, if the goal of college is solely the attainment of a career, then the ownership of that power may be less crucial.

Whether or not the reader is ready to accept the totality of the career goals of a college education, or the business model of the parent/student relationship, 25 Ways to Make College Pay Off contains a great deal of valuable and helpful information, presented in a clear and easily accessible manner.  It balances well some of the other “off to college” literature which deals more with the transition process and feelings of students and parents.  We recommend this for your college parent bookshelf.

About the author:

Bill Coplin has been the director and professor of public affairs at Syracuse University for more than thirty years.  He has published numerous books and articles in the fields of international relations, public policy, and social science education, including How You Can Help and 10 Things Employers Want You to Learn in College. He has written about the need to reform both high school and college education to better meet the needs of students who see education as a path to better employment opportunities.

What the author has to say about the book:

“This book suggests a no-nonsense approach toward your child’s college experience.  That means no nonsense with your child and no nonsense with the college program.”

“If nothing else, I hope this book helps you and your child become better consumers of undergraduate education with respect to career preparation. There are other purposes for a college education: children need to mature, have a good time, become good citizens, and learn for the sake of learning.  But this book’s focus is on helping parents help their children prepare for rewarding careers after college – the number-one reason parents pay as much as $200,000 for a four-year undergraduate program.”

“I decided to write this book for parents rather than students for a very simple reason. . . I realized that writing directly to students was not enough. . . I realized that parents approach their children in a variety of counterproductive ways.  It’s as if they’re at the race track spending money and watching from the sidelines.  Their primary activities are cheering for high grades or letting loose a torrent of four-letter words when their children appear to be faltering.  Parents have to become investors, not gamblers, in their children’s college educations.”

“This book is not about finances, dealing with roommate problems, how to get good grades, or how to get admitted to the best graduate schools.  . . . This book is about how to help your children maximize their college experiences in order to pursue satisfying careers.”

“Take what you find sensible and think will work for you and your child.”

What others have to say about the book:

“Practical, down-to-earth strategies and ideas that parents can use to subtly influence their college-age children to make the kinds of choices that will better prepare them for a successful transition to work and for satisfying and productive careers.”

Carol A. Edds

Center on Education and Work, University of Wisconsin-Madison

 

“ Parents seek a reasonable return on investment for their child’s college education . . . This is a practical and insightful guide for parents who are income-challenged and outcome-oriented.”

James A Boyle

President, College Parents of America

 

“An excellent guide for all parents who want their ultimate investment in their child’s future to pay lifelong dividends.  Going to college doesn’t guarantee a successful and fulfilling future – it takes self-assessment, planning, and execution.  Parents can affect the outcome by knowing when to be supportive and when to get out of the way.”

Steve Canale

Manager, Recruiting & Staffing, GE

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