For many 18-year-olds, college is the first big step away from home, a leap toward real independence. But that leap has always had limits. Ties to home, emotional and financial, typically remain strong.
From the campus protest days of the late '60s and early '70s until fairly recently, those ties were purposefully deemphasized. Students were widely viewed as on their own, making their own decisions. If they were old enough to be drafted to go to war, the thinking went, they were old enough to live unsupervised lives.
That line of reasoning, too, had its limits. For starters, few environments are more paternalistic or more closely supervised than the military.
Current reports show the '60s code of student autonomy fading. Today's students want, and schools are providing, more guidance, supervision, rules - in a word, structure.
Some large universities are offering residential settings that include adults to keep an eye on things and dispense advice. Counseling services of all kinds are more in demand. Many schools are trying to curb wild parties and binge drinking. Not least, parents are being kept better informed of how their offspring are doing.
All of this adds up to an opportunity for enhanced higher learning. More structured lives should mean more serious and effective studying. Closer relationships to academic advisers and professors should develop. Students can arrive at a better sense of their own worth as thinking individuals, and of their responsibility towards those who make the college experience possible.
Nothing in the changing campus environment alters a basic truth: Success at a college or university - like success thereafter - hinges largely on the individual's capacity for self-motivation. But a supportive "learning community," like a caring family, can help awaken that capacity.