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 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Teach Your Children Well!

Farm Business Management Update, June 1999

By By David M. Kohl and Robert Chapman of the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, Virginia Tech

I have just finished 23 years of teaching, most of it at Virginia Tech and some at Cornell University. I am eagerly awaiting my special leave with the Royal Bank of Canada. In that time span, I have taught nearly 7,000 students in junior and senior level classes. And like me, many of you are parents who have incurred or are about to incur the expense of post secondary education. Today's costs can range from $5,000 to $35,000 for tuition, room, and board per year. USA Today estimates that future costs from 2010 to 2015 could range from $50,000 to $100,000 per year. I would like to reflect on some of the trends that I have observed over the years and some of the discussions that I have had with other faculty, students, and staff concerning student success inside and outside of the classroom.

Keys to Success

Keys to Success Many of you bring your children to visit. All of you are excited, yet nervous, about what lies ahead. The tranquil has hidden potholes that can have your child back on your doorstep before you know it.


The circle of friends and acquaintances your child chooses can result in a successful or unsuccessful educational experience. A straight-A high school student with poor study habits, a new car, living on or off campus with unfocused students is a recipe for disaster. Encourage your children to select their friends carefully.


The number of clubs and organizations has exploded since I started teaching. Successful students generally balance extracurricular activities with academic work. They usually select two or three clubs, organizations, or teams and focus on a deeper experience. These extracurricular activities are critical in the developing networking and leadership skills.

Class Attendance

I cannot stress enough the importance of class attendance. Some of my colleagues across campus and around the country are becoming discouraged at the lack of attendance. This past year, my assistant, Bob Chapman, and I tracked class attendance through random class participation exercises. We allowed students to miss one class without penalty. Students who attended all classes or missed only one (which was 45 percent of the class) had an average of seven points above the mean for the class. At the other end of the spectrum, the 17 percent that missed four or more classes were 9 points below the class average, and a significant 15 points below the students with high attendance. University classes have become larger. Some institutions of higher learning have undervalued education, transformed it into a commodity, or used it as a cash cow. It may become a bigger problem. Oversized classes definitely do not help.

Who Pays? The Child or the Parent

Over the years in my agricultural finance class, students have debated over who should be responsible for the cost of an undergraduate education. In the past, the class was usually split: 50 percent felt Mom and Dad or the family should pay most, while the other half felt they should be partially or totally responsible. In recent years, I have observed that the tide is turning so that many students feel it's their right to have their education paid for by someone else. The students' foremost justification this year was that Mom and Dad get a tax deduction. Others stated they have been responsible for working on the farm or in a business and it's "payback time." It's my general observation that this generation of students (1982-99) has not experienced a downturn in the economy. They, therefore, don't understand the sacrifices being made for them. Maybe, they should either be held accountable in some way for the expense or given the facts and figures on the cost of an education.

College Has Become an Extension of High School

According to an April issue of USA Today, 65 percent of graduating high school seniors are enrolled in universities and colleges. To some young people, college is somewhere to go while they make up their minds about what they want to do with their lives. This lack of focus is evident in their lack of academic achievement and the six-year student. I have observed many that have flunked out in their freshman year. They remain out a year or two, come back, and become very successful students. In general, adult students are becoming more prevalent in my classes. In a recent class, I had a 65-year-old who was a very successful businessman. He raised the standard of class performance. When he talked, other students listened.

The Internship or Work Experience

I have been very blessed over the years to have an excellent set of student assistants. They have been responsible for grading, student counseling, and in some cases, lecturing. They have always come back to tell me that you don't know something until you teach and experience it. They found that working with professors on teaching, extension, and research projects helped differentiate them in the marketplace. Dr. Charlie Coale and Dr. Dixie Reaves in our department have developed an outstanding internship and work experience program with leading organizations and institutions. We find this allows the students and companies to test their skills, expectations, responsibilities, and work ethics.

Television, Computers, and The Internet

According to the October 1994 issue of USA Today, the typical 18 year old watches 18,000 hours of television and goes to school 13,000 hours. I predict that the computer and Internet will replace the television in their future. I have observed that TV makes students lazy listeners. The computer and Internet are not much better by turning them into processors of information instead of thinkers. According to the May 2 issue of The Economist, the United States' secondary education is becoming second rate. I tend to agree, as writing skills are fair at best. Critical thinking skills and human interaction such as teamwork and leadership are becoming a challenge. Communicating through e-mail is easier than communicating face to face. In ten years time, this lack of communication ability could be a challenge for organizations that rely on human relation skills.

The Future

This article may sound as if I am angry with generation Y. But I tend to see the glass half full instead of half empty. While students may have shorter attention spans and want to be entertained, many young people still will become successful in their professional and personal lives. Many are already saving instead of relying on Social Security, working their way through college, doing volunteer work, and making an attempt to make the world better.

One of the joys of teaching is to watch undergraduate students mature and become productive citizens. Another joy is watching a student who had personal problems and flunked classes suddenly mature, correct the problem, and receive one of the top five grades in class. You can't put a dollar sign on that!

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