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College has changed since columnist went

Back to school has always been one of my favorite times of year. I love the idea of a fresh start with new notebooks, freshly sharpened pencils, and new classes holding the promise of learning new things. It was also when Grandma would take me to get “school shoes” with that wonderful smell of new leather. We continued this ritual together even through my college years.

So much has changed, though some remains the same. Dropping my daughter Lanie off for her second year at my alma mater, Valparaiso University, was strange. She’s living in a building that was a male-only freshman dorm 30 years ago. We called it “The Zoo” because it was the wildest, smelliest place on campus, full of those unique animals that are 18-year-old boys. My husband once lived there. Now it’s totally remodeled and full of upper-class students of both genders and has the luxury of air conditioning that we could only dream of.

Watching students move into their dorms reminded me of how it felt 30 years prior. I remember taking a neat little box of 10 newly recorded cassettes — the latest, greatest technology — to Valparaiso University with me. I was convinced I’d never need more music than those 15 hours of Beatles, Bowie, Stones, Yes, and Led Zeppelin. I don’t even know how many hours of music my daughter’s iPod now holds, but I do know it still has all of those artists. Change, yet continuity. I also noticed that the “skinny jeans” we wore in the 1980s are back with a little lower waistband. I simply save all the fashions because no matter how ugly or unflattering, they always come back.

During college I owned a state-of-the-art electric typewriter. During spring finals week I’d string extension cords together and take it outdoors. I’m a little jealous of a generation for whom “cut and paste” means Ctrl-X and Ctrl-V, not find scissors and cut the paragraphs apart, then glue them back together in the correct order.

The biggest difference I see is cost. Tuition, room and board have risen much faster than the pace of inflation — at VU from roughly $8000 per year to a whopping $40,000! I’m sure this hyperinflation puts many students’ first-choice schools completely out of reach.

Being from a family of limited means, I chafed at Mitt Romney’s speech last summer where he thought it was giving people a “fair shot” if “they get as much education as they can afford.”

His advice in a subsequent speech in Westerville, Ohio, was to “Borrow money if you have to from your parents.” Trouble is, some parents don’t have money to lend and without help like Pell grants — which some politicians would like to slash from the budget — some students can’t afford any higher education at all, regardless of talent, intelligence, or potential.

One thing that hasn’t changed — and may be more important than ever before — is the necessity of requesting an absentee ballot if students want to make their voices heard while away at school. For Aurorans who are already registered, they simply need to call the Aurora Election Commission at 630-897-4030 to request the absentee ballot, which will not be mailed until Sept. 27. If unregistered, they must copy and send two forms of identification with their application. Call the election commission or go to for instructions — today.

Things change, but a few stay the same. As we resume the discipline of learning with this school year, I wish students clean notebooks, new shoes, and that timeless feeling of hope. May you work hard at your studies, fight for your dreams, and get involved in the democratic process to have your say in shaping the future.

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