Hey, College Kids, Take a Gap Year

by Kerry Dougherty

I’m delighted to no longer be part of the parental tuition-check-writing cohort. Because if I were, I’d have to tell my kids that my checkbook was closed.

Take a year off, I’d tell them. A “gap year.”

That way they could escape the dystopian nightmare that colleges and universities have become as they over-react to the danger COVID-19 poses to college students. It would also exempt them from a world where newspapers are so desperate to gin up virus-shaming with headlines like this: “Six Students Sent Off Campus at Roanoke College.”

At the risk of sounding callous, why is this a news story?

Chances are these students have no symptoms or they’re experiencing something like the flu. Funny, I don’t remember hair-on-fire headlines when H1N1 was rampaging across college campuses, killing some and sickening thousands, including my son who was quarantined in his Marshall University dorm room for more than a week in 2009.

The implication is, of course, that these naughty Roanoke students engaged in “risky” behavior, which at this point amounts to ordinary college activities such as going to a party or riding in a car with four other students without wearing hazmat suits.

It gets worse.

The University of Virginia has proudly announced its new Coronavirus Snitch Program: It urges students to turn in their fellow Cavaliers who are seen engaging in flagrant examples of unsafe behavior, especially if they can document such transgressions with photos, videos or just good old-fashioned tattling.

Enough, already.

I wouldn’t pay a penny to have my kids swept up in this insanity. And I definitely wouldn’t ante up for student activity fees when so many activities are canceled or modified to the point that they’re unrecognizable.

And why would anyone pay tuition for students to take online classes from a dorm room or from an off-campus apartment?

Some school cafeterias are closed. Parties are forbidden. Athletic events, when allowed, won’t have spectators.

Hardly a normal college experience.

Gap years are usually associated with privileged young people, traveling the world with Daddy’s credit card before buckling down and getting a degree. College kids can’t travel very far this fall, but they can finally hike the Appalachian or Pacific Crest Trail. Or they can read a book a week. Or tutor local kids who are not allowed back in their classrooms. Or do volunteer work in their home communities.

College campuses are engulfed in a sort of corporate greed where tuition and fees hold steady while the offerings at many schools are thin gruel.

Take that year off, kids. You won’t regret it.

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15 responses to “Hey, College Kids, Take a Gap Year

  1. Here’s another idea for kids taking a gap year: Enroll in an online class to see how much they get out of it.

  2. “At the risk of sounding callous, why is this a news story?” You know why.

  3. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Forget the gap year. Start up a business. Downturns are when a startup business can emerge and thrive. Try any service with the “on demand” approach and you have a decent shot at success. Heck why not? You are young and full of energy. Gas tank will never be this full again.

  4. High school students should be taking gap years too. Any school district that wants to go all online for high school should instead furlough all school employees without pay until next Fall (2021) and just accept that the students missed a year of learning. Students in those districts will typically graduate from high school at age 19 instead of 18. So what?

    Nobody thinks distance learning is as effective as in-person learning for K-12 although few are willing to make estimates of the shortfall. I’ve heard numbers as low as 75% effective for math and 50% as effective for English.

    The K-12 situation in Virginia is particularly strange. Different school districts have different approaches ranging from all virtual to all in-person. Yet the COVID19 infection rates are not consistently different from district to district. Why the differences by school district? Are some school districts so full of under-capacity schools that social distancing is easy? Or are the more liberal areas only too happy to sacrifice the students’ progress in order to bow to the teachers’ unions, er… I mean associations?

  5. I know this would hard now, but it would great taking “gap”’time after you finish. One of mine managed to finish in three and a half years with no debt. She flew to the west coast and camped to West Texas and back. Then Amtrak across the country by herself. Then a few months as an intern at a scuba place in the Bahamas. Then she came back and started her own business. Just bragging.

  6. Thanks but her biz has been really hurt by the virus but she is selling online.

  7. “Classes don’t begin until Monday, and Virginia Tech has already suspended seven students for breaking the school’s COVID-19 policies.”


    TL;DR: Sheep go “baa.”
    PS – What do you think are the chances the 11 can get a full refund for pre-start suspension?

  8. Senate Finance is meeting now and the discussion is about the “transformational” loss of students underway this week and last, with more to come. Sen. Petersen said his two children have “dis-enrolled” recently. This is rapidly evolving….

    Repeating myself yet again, from K-12 up to graduate school, a totally lost year looms…..The gap year may not be voluntary.

  9. Baconator with extra cheese

    So school’s out forever in RVA unless you need childcare. The city is working with the YMCA and other groups to provide childcare and school help- in the schools…. am I wrong or is this just “school’ but only for certain kids. This is beyond problematic. I guess some kids are becoming more equal- for equity sake- than other kids.
    And why is RVA bringing other groups in to help when they aren’t furloughing any staff? So the teacher unions keep the teachers out of schools and nonprofits will bring “tutors” into the schools to “help kids with school work” while the teachers get paid to teach from home? Will they also use nonprofits in place of the bus drivers too?

  10. I believe that almost ANY work experience is valuable. And it’s never been more true that when life gives you a lemon – you make lemonade.

    All this crappola – as if no one has any other options at all is just beyond the pale.

    Like kids have only one option – instead of a world of choice – that could actually be invaluable later on their careers.

    there is no “GAP” except between your ears if you are so incapable of thinking opportunistically about the possibilities. We are raising a generation of “give me what I want or I’ll whine” types.

    James had it right. Get off your lard asses and do something instead of whining about something you have no control over anyhow.


  11. It’s a shame so many are automatically assuming that online instruction is less valuable. I speak as a faculty member who worked all summer on my courses and on learning how to effectively convert them to the online environment. I cannot do things the ways I usually do, but since COVID hit, I’ve spent more time on courses and individual interactions with students than ever. I was not satisfied with how things went in spring so I invested my time and energy to improve it for fall.

    I wasn’t paid to work all summer as I did. There were not funds to pay us to do this as there have been for those who did this in the past. It costs universities a lot more to provide effective online instruction than it does to just send faculty to class in person – even when they don’t pay us to make the changes. There are equipment purchases and software, and other needs multiplied by everyone who is teaching.

    We all must do things differently, and take new purposeful actions to get benefits that were once achieved in person. Some of us are working toward that goal and expect to achieve it. Please don’t discount us before we start!

    • Baconator with extra cheese

      That’s fair and you are right. I’m sure most teachers will try and do their best.
      Thanks for your effort. I know awesome teachers made all the difference in my life and my daughter’s life.

  12. The whole Helen Dragas thing was about UVA competing against other Colleges offering online.

    She wanted to get rid of Teresa Sullivan because she would not accelerate UVA towards Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

    Now, we are in a situation where MOOC makes perfect sense and it’s not like it’s not a legitimate thing to start with. Liberty University – is the largest university in Virginia because a lot of it is online.

    The on-campus thing is not about education. It’s about a type of lifestyle that some highly value and want their kids to experience but education is something they can obtain without experiencing College “life”.

    One can argue the value of on-campus but to argue that education is not possible unless it is on campus is just plain silly. And to make a hullabaloo ruckus about it – is apparently the way of the partisan rabble-rousers these days.

    We can much more legitimately argue about the need/necessity of “in-person” for K-12 but I think that argument for college is pretty weak.

    NOW – I AGREE there is a problem with charging on-campus prices for online… which makes me wonder what folks are really paying for as well as admitting what they are paying for.

    • Student pay room and board for the on-campus experience. There is nothing in the tuition portion that pays for on-campus. When classes have been in person, it costs to switch them to virtual only.

      It sounds like you think education is lecturing without feedback to the instructor and machine graded multiple guess tests. People learn in different ways. Some information is best learned by doing not just reading/listening. There is a real difference between a lab course where an instructor and peers are available to answer questions as they come up and students learn from each other as they work.

      No one learns to write from multiple guess tests. I’ve not found a technology to grade written papers. It takes a human and interactions/iterations.

      Most of us are offering courses online but with live interaction. Few of us are submitting canned lectures with machine graded tests. Costs vary but you can’t assume online is cheaper to provide.

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