Living Columns & Blogs

The college experience is worth the price of admission (even out-of-state)

The comic strip , “Baby Blues,” in which Dad is lamenting that he had a dream that he would have three kids in college and be paying out-of-state tuition, reminded me that two of our three grandchildren will also be in college this year, both paying out-of-state tuition.

They have their own reasons for choosing Bard College in New York and the University of Vermont instead of an in-state school in Florida.

Across the span of many decades, I remember why I chose Mars Hill Junior College as my port of entry into higher education.

During World War II, my best Air Force buddy and I were sitting under the palms in New Guinea when he said, “Now Snow, when we get home, we’re going to Mars Hill Junior College on the G.I. Bill. It’s a good, small school, less than a thousand students, mostly girls because all the males have been drafted.”

I didn’t argue and eventually showed up at the college and found Don waiting on the porch of Rivermont Dorm, a big, rambling converted farm house. (Later, to give the place more class, the residents added a “d” to the spelling, as in Rivermondt.)

Alas, Don had some bad news for me. Since he’d been home, he’d fallen in love with a girl who was attending the University of Tennessee. He had decided to follow his heart to U.T. rather than room with me at Mars Hill.

My first thought was that I would take the next bus home and see if I could get into Wake Forest or Carolina. But then I decided to pay Rivermondt Dorm and Mars Hill College the courtesy of at least one semester. I stayed the full two years and loved every day of it.

Eventually, our older daughter, Melinda, also attended Mars Hill, then a four-year school, after an unhappy stint at Carolina.

Her roommate was a major cause for her discontent at Chapel Hill. Melinda would often come home at night from studying at the library to find her room door locked and her night clothes and tooth brush sitting outside the door, a signal that her roomie’s boyfriend was again spending the night. Melinda would be reduced to knocking on doors until she found a vacant bunk.

In a letter, she once described the contrast between Carolina and Mars Hill.

”At Carolina, nobody cared whether I went to class or not,” she wrote. “At Mars Hill, if you don’t show, a faculty member may soon be knocking on your door and handing you a bowl of hot chicken soup.”

Especially for grown men returning from war, the college’s code of separation of the sexes seemed extreme.

Dating was allowed only in the parlors of the girls’ dorms, usually under the watchful gaze of the dorm’s blue-haired “house mother.”

The Dean of Women roamed the campus from time to time, confronting couples who were caught holding hands. She consistently lectured them with “Aren’t you two going to save something for marriage?” and sent the girl to her room.

The twice-weekly compulsory attendance assemblies were segregated, with girls on one side and boys on the other.

Almost always, someone on the male side of the auditorium would pass a note asking “Did you make out last night?” The preposterous question, posed in more colorful wording, always brought smiles.

Although supposedly “mature,” we veterans were not above such childish Halloween pranks as “borrowing” a cow from a nearby farmer’s barn in the wee hours of the night, and leading her to the second floor of a girls’ dorm and leaving her there.

We heard via the grapevine the next day that this exercise in research proved that it’s much easier to lead a cow up two flights of stairs than it is to lead her down those stairs.

The college, nestled in the valley at the foot of Old Bailey Mountain, enjoyed an excellent academic reputation. All my credits transferred to UNC-Chapel Hill except the A’s I earned in two required Bible courses.

As anyone who has spent a chunk of his or her life at some educational institution may realize, that piece of framed, impersonal parchment hanging on your office or den wall doesn’t begin to reflect that special time in your life.

Those long-lasting memories that have hung on the walls of your heart down through the years are the true spiritual returns on your investment in higher learning. Treasure them as pearls of great price.