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Help for homesick college kids

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Lynn Hummel Detroit Lakes, 56501
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

At a time when unemployment in this country is at about 9.6 percent, this column is in constant search of ideas for creating new jobs.

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Let me launch the latest idea with an assumption you may dispute until you have finished reading this article. Here's the assumption: homesickness generates an opportunity for thousands of new jobs. Read further.

There are 2,474 public and private four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. and 1,666 public and private two-year schools. That's a total of 4,140 schools, with a combined enrollment of approximately 17.5 million students.

Now some more assumptions based on everyday observations and common sense.

Assume that one-fourth of those students are first-year students away from home for the first time.

Now, assume further that about 10 percent of those students (male and female) get homesick the first week they're away from home.

That would mean that in the first week of September there were 437,500 homesick students. OK, maybe 10 percent is a bit strong -- so let's assume a 5 percent homesickness rate -- that's still 218,750 homesick students.

So how does homesickness create an employment opportunity? Have you ever seen mothers and dads dropping off their precious freshman at a college dormitory? The mothers cry openly, the dads sniffle, and the kids slink off in embarrassment. But every kid has a cell phone and at least 5 percent are calling home in the first 24 hours.

Some will openly admit they are homesick, the rest will whimper and ask dumb questions about their dogs, cats, little brothers and sisters and there will be long pauses and awkward silences.

Girls will whine louder than boys, but boys will be hurting just as much.

Mothers and dads will get mushy and wish they could do something, but they're not going to suggest the kids pack up and come home.

But hey, homesickness is real and there are many early dropouts, not because the students can't hack the studies, but just because they get homesick.

OK -- how about the job angle? Here it is. An agency will be established starting a service called "Freshman Tuck-In." The agency will organize an army of warm motherly and grandmotherly types, all at least twice as old as the students, who can calm and comfort the homesick and assure them that everything is going to be all right and that by the end of a week or two they'll be getting acquainted, meeting new people, making new friends and getting into the routine of classes.

It's nothing more than some hand-holding and tender loving care at one of the critical hours of a young person's life.

Grieving parents would hire these Tuck-In specialists to comfort the students in person (and the parents by phone) for a reasonable compensation.

The specialists would be selected carefully for their people skills, including kindness and sympathy; would be required to be good listeners, soothing talkers and have pleasant personalities; and be optimistic and confident. The job would only be temporary of course -- it couldn't (shouldn't) possibly last more than a month.

You may ask why all the specialists would be women. Let's face it, there is a difference. Any young person with a chance to mug for a TV camera always says "hi, mom." It's never "hi, dad." I had a wonderful, strong dad. He loved me dearly, but he wasn't a warm, Tuck-In type. Don't argue -- it's women only.

Let's just say the average Tuck-In took two hours a day for two weeks. That's 20 hours. Let's assume a rate of $25 per hour for this priceless service. If all 5 percent of the homesick students (218,750) were tucked in, $10,937,500 would be pumped into the economy. If 10 percent were tucked in, the gross would be almost $22 million.

There would be no guarantees, of course. If a kid is a total crybaby, there can be no cure in two weeks or even a month. Parents can't expect miracles. That's why Tuck-In fees must be paid in advance -- no refunds.

After all, tuition is paid in advance and is not refunded.

If the student needs a boot in the rear, and parents know that in advance, perhaps a Marine drill sergeant-type of specialist could be employed for a "Grow-Up, Shape-Up!" Tuck-In.

The cost would be double, of course, but that way the parents would know they'd done everything they could to protect that pre-paid tuition investment.

The first month of college could be the most crucial month of the entire four-year period for a student and her family.

No effort should be spared to protect the most precious thing a family has -- its children.

So remember, never underestimate the power of a tender word.

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