College presents a great opportunity to spend money

August 28, 1994|By SUSAN REIMER

There is no place like home. Unless, of course, it is college. College is better than home.

A friend is packing her son off for his first year of college, and he will be able to carry everything in his back pocket. In his wallet. In those little credit card compartments.

He is going to Duke, where you can pay to have people do all the things for your child that you do. An interesting dilemma for a woman, I think: How much are you willing to spend to replace yourself in your child's life?

"As soon as he was accepted, we started getting things in the mail," says his mother, Diana. She soon found herself awash in brochures offering all the comforts of home in exchange for a credit card number and its expiration date.

A deluxe package of sheets, towels, mattress pad, comforter and pillows can be waiting on his bunk for $139.95. A competitive price when you consider that the dormitory beds are extra-long singles and you'd have to hire a seamstress to make the sheets. Dial 1 (800) XL-SHEET to place your order, the brochure says.

Because those sheets might turn battleship gray if left in the care of the average 18-year-old boy, you can either rent them -- to be changed every week -- or order laundry service. Pay by the pound, and he'll have clean underwear, too.

This kind of pampering not only sends a terrible message to young adults about personal responsibility, but it also denies them the social interaction of the college laundry room. My husband found a lifelong friend smelling socks 25 years ago. The guy was confused about which ones were dirty, my husband smothered a laugh and the stranger glowered like he was going to kill him. By the next semester, they were roommates.

If your child has trouble making these kinds of friends, Duke can fix that. For a price. Based on his religion or his language test scores, a student might receive invitations to a Catholic beach weekend or an offer to live in premium housing and eat dinner with professors. Wow. Mail-order mentors for your child.

Computers are more of a necessity than backpacks, and, for more money than your entire education cost you, you can outfit your kid with a Bill Gates special. It costs extra to link up with the school's information network, but it saves your child the trouble of going to the library and falling asleep in the stacks while reading back issues of Sports Illustrated.

No dorm room is complete without a "micro-fridge" -- a combination microwave and mini-refrigerator. And cable TV is available, too. Although if you are paying $30 a month so your child can watch MTV while the meter is running on a $100,000 education, you ought to have your head examined.

And AT&T offers an 800 number so your child can not call you for weeks at a time and make you worry for free. (This is in addition to his not being there when you call, no matter how late.)

And then there is the Duke FlexCard, the equivalent of an American Express gold card. With it, he can charge books, basketball tickets, cafeteria food, meals delivered from more than 20 local restaurants, groceries, cappuccino at a coffee bar and more.

(Coming soon: Duke Dollars. Earn 5 percent on everything you charge during your four years there and save enough to pay for graduate school when you can't find a job.)

You can even pay not to visit your child -- and save money. Duke offers a video teleconference for $300 to $500 for 30 minutes and notes that you can save $1,000 in travel expenses.

And for those special occasions -- or just to say, "I love you, so call" -- you can have delivered to your child's dorm room something from a gift service. Tins of popcorn and candy, gourmet cookies, balloons or fresh flowers. From the practical mom, a basket containing a flashlight and extension cords or a sewing kit can be waiting on his bunk.

There are gaps in college services, however. No one who comes by the dorm every morning to make the bed and say: "Honest to heaven, you're 18 years old and you still can't make a bed. And look at this room. What if one of my friends comes by? Who do you think is going to do this for you when you leave here?"

/# It would be such a homey touch.

To hear Susan Reimer read one of her columns, call Sundial and punch in the four-digit code 6156. See the SunSource directory on Page 2A for your Sundial number.

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