Friday, April 18, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Give the kid a holiday break

Nicolaus Mills

is a professor of American studies

at Sarah Lawrence College and the

author of "Winning the Peace: The Marshall Plan and America's Coming of Age as a Superpower"

Years ago, when I began college teaching, I always told my students that I expected them to come to class on the Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week. With Christmas just around the corner, five days of vacation were, I thought, plenty of time off.

I've changed my tune. I teach at an East Coast school, and for my West Coast students, flying home on the days just before Thanksgiving costs an arm and a leg if they are lucky enough just to get an airplane seat. Even train and bus travel on those days is tough.

My biggest reason, though, for turning into a softy about Thanksgiving vacation is that I think my students are spending less and less time with their parents while in college, and I fear that situation is only going to get worse in the coming years.

In the 1960s, when I was in college and grad school, my friends and I came home most summers. We got jobs, lived with our parents, and used the money we saved to help pay for our educations. We entered the job market debt-free.

But these days, especially in small towns, it is hard to find summer jobs that can make a serious dent in college expenses when many private universities charge as much as $60,000 a year and flagship public universities charge between $20,000 and $30,000.

Today's students thus have an incentive during the summer to look for a job away from home and, if they can't find the right job, look for an internship, typically in a big city, that will make their resumés more impressive.

My students belong to a millennial generation (those born between 1980 and 2000) that is very close with its parents. According to a Pew Research Center survey, nearly two-thirds of millennials say it is the responsibility of adult children to allow an elderly parent to live in their home if that is what the parent wants. My students share such feelings, but they have also accepted the fact that their first jobs after college are likely to pay so little and demand so much that as young professionals, they are not, unless they live close by, going to be visiting their parents for Thanksgiving or any one- or two-day holiday in the near future.

So, my students have concluded, now is the time for them to spend Thanksgivings with their parents. I agree, and the least I can do is make it easier for them to act on that conclusion.

I am getting better at figuring out ways to make up for lost classroom time at Thanksgiving, and I am glad to be on my students' side, rather than being one of the people telling them to devote more of their personal lives to climbing the career ladder. Any college generation faced with paying off $1 trillion in student loan debt needs allies wherever it can find them.

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