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How College Has Changed Since the 1980s

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It feels like an eternity since I was in school from 1984 to 1988 at what is now the University of West Georgia (formerly West Georgia College).

The campus newspaper, The West Georgian, where I worked all four years, is now online only, along with everything else pretty much.

Back in the day, after producing our articles on giant video display terminals (VDTs) and developing pictures in the dark room, we had to take our disks over to the local paper and complete lay out and paste-up of our newspaper. The Times-Georgian, the local publication, then did the printing. It was a two-day affair practically. Now, thanks to technology, there is no paste-up. Everything is done by computer.

Fast forward to today. I drive down University Drive in Fort Worth, Texas where I live and see so many college students talking on their cell phones, which we didn’t have in school.

At the risk of sounding like a grandparent, when I was in college if you needed to make a call, you had to find a pay phone or office one on campus. Now these kids can’t do without their cell phones and pay phones are a thing of the past.

In the 80s there was no Internet and no one had a computer in their rooms. If you needed to use one, you had to go to the lab on campus.

Roommates were chosen for you by the school, often resulting in ones from hell.

You couldn’t register for classes online because there was no such thing – it was all done in person.

Campus security was a joke as was outside lighting, not like now where the place is all lit up like a Christmas tree and every few feet is an emergency phone that automatically alerts security. Having a daughter in college, I’m grateful for that.

Books were cheap, too, although back then I thought they were so expensive! I paid $75 per quarter total for all mine.

And we were on a quarter system, not semester.

Classes were much smaller and a lot of people knew the same students. It was more intimate but on the flip side of that, teachers weren’t so informal with their students like they are now via social media communicating assignments through texts and in their friendly responses. We didn’t take exams or get our assignments online because that world didn’t exist.

You had to go to the first floor to do your laundry in the dorm and though you could have Hot Pots and toaster ovens in your room, if you needed to cook anything more extravagant, you’d have to use the kinda nasty, small kitchen downstairs. If someone else was using it, you’d have to come back or wait. The dorms didn’t have their own individual bathrooms and kitchens like they do now.

Even back in 2007 students coming to college for the first time expected a private bedroom in Dallas, Texas. Some schools were hesitant back then to embrace every amenity trend. Having students live two to a room worked out better than providing individual dorm rooms, according to Baylor University in the mid 2000s.

But now it’s not uncommon for some students to get their own private room.

In 2007 there was also a waterfall tanning area at Southern Methodist University (SMU).

When I was in college, you headed to Love Valley on campus to get a tan or laid out in front of the dorm.

At SMU there’s a 40-foot climbing wall, whereas in my student days, you just went to the campus gym, walked around the track, swam in the indoor pool, or played tennis at the courts close by. At Baylor University there’s a pool with a lazy river and massage therapy among other perks.

At the University of North Texas (UNT), there’s a healthy-alternative dining facility compared to my school days when you were stuck with the Student Center or Z-6, the cafeteria also nicknamed “Z Sick” because the food was so bad. Healthy alternatives? Well, you could have some fresh fruit at the Student Center or buy your own stuff if you had the money.

UNT also has money management and financial counseling available which we didn’t have, either. If you wanted to know how to manage your money, you’d ask your parents or someone who seemed to be good at it. Or, maybe if you were lucky you’d pick up some tips in a college class if you were a business major. As for financial counseling, no one bothered.

And at the University of Texas at Austin, students can enjoy the heated outdoor leisure pool with a poolside cafe.

At my daughter’s school, there’s a Chick-Fil-A on campus as well as other amenities.

If you were hungry when I was in college and you were broke, you waited till you got back to your dorm and grabbed something you already had in your dorm-sized fridge, drawers, or closet shelf where you might have stashed some other munchies.

Despite all the lack of technology and convenience, here’s some of what we did have:

Memories that we still trade stories about on social media, playing Trivial Pursuit while making strawberry daiquiris and watching “Miami Vice,” throwing outrageous parties, going “branching” (dancing at The Long Branch), throwing birthday parties for each girl, with no one staring at their phones, churning out editorials and articles on typewriters and computers and ordering pizza from the campus pizzeria.

We also had fun at the newspaper convention in 1987, snowball fights during Snow Jams 1986, 1987, got to be a part of things in real time as they happened, were a part of that great 80s era, and secrets that we’ll never tell that we don’t ever have to worry about being played out for all the world to see.

And we were part of a world that I feel fortunate to have been a student during a time when things were simpler, a lot less rushed, not so impersonal, a little kinder, maybe less AI.

But I loved the creativity and being more with people outside and in action, chasing, running, finding treasures, hunting down stories, making memories.

It reminded me of my childhood and the pure exploration of it all.

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