With the nation’s unemployment rate hovering about 10 percent, recent high school graduates are escaping reality by going to college, and college grads are avoiding reality by entering grad school. The result is that it now takes an M.A. to become a shift manager at a fast food restaurant.
Colleges have stayed ahead of the Recession by becoming business models, where students are “inventory units,” and success is based upon escalating profit. Increasing the number of incoming units, class size, and tuition, while not increasing teaching and support staff, leads some colleges to believe they are solvent in a leaking economy. Budgets for academics are decreasing; budgets for dorms are increasing. Enrollment in degree-granting institutions is expected to be about 19.1 million in 2012, an increase of about 25 percent from 2000, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.
Desperate to destroy their image as places of scholarship, colleges are using the 98.6 admissions criteria—admit almost anyone with a body temperature. Colleges may claim they admit only students with at least a 3.0 grade point average, which at some high schools is about half the student body, but it’s likely that students with lower averages aren’t recruited because they’re already working as lab specimens.
Across the nation, Developmental Education classes are increasing, with some departments now within the Top 5 in the college. For those who don’t speak “academicese,” that means more students are in college who have basic readin’, ’riting, and ’rithmetic problems.
Nevertheless, there are still a few hold-outs among colleges where students actually go to study, develop their minds, and hope to make great contributions to society. This, of course, in a declining economy, is not acceptable.
At Neargreat Tech, when the Admissions department failed to increase enrollment because most high school grads didn’t want to be associated with geeks, the President convened a Judiciary Review Board to reduce the college’s academic reputation. First in was the class valedictorian.
“Bennish, this is the fifth time this semester you’ve been caught sneaking into the library. This administration just doesn’t know what to do with you.”
“Sir, maybe I could increase my community service and read books to the ill and illiterate.”
“Why can’t you just go to our football games Saturday afternoons, then party and get drunk like a normal college student?”
“Because, sir, we don’t have a football team.”
“Then start one! If it’s as bad as it could be, you’ll have an excuse to drink. Next!”
Next in was a student accused of disturbing the peace.
“Rachmaninoff, your advisor says you’re a pretty good musician, but you only want to play the classical stuff. We’re assigning you to the marching band.”
“But, Dean, I play the piano.”
“Great! The band needs a pianist.”
“Sir, it might be difficult to carry a piano along Broadway. Besides, there are only 20 members in the band anyhow.”
“Even better! Pick an instrument. Banjo. Double bass. Electric guitar. They need everything! Dismissed!”
Next to be called to face a disciplinary hearing was Schopenhauer. “You were seen lying on the grass beneath a tree in the quad,” said the president. “The campus police claim you were thinking. We should give you an opportunity to defend yourself against this egregious accusation. What exactly were you doing?”
“That’s outrageous! You know we don’t like our students to think. What’s your major?”
“That’s the problem,” the president declared. “Since you’re only a freshman, and probably don’t know better, I’ll be lenient. You are sentenced to a day of writing graffiti on the university’s bathroom walls.” He paused a moment, then snapped, “And don’t let me catch you writing anything intelligent on those walls!”
Later that afternoon, the president met with his staff.
“This isn’t going to work,” said the dejected president. “We can’t catch every practicing scholar on campus. They’re just snickering at our rules. If we can’t stop education, then we won’t be able to raise our enrollment and get performance bonuses.”
That’s when Winslow, a newly-appointed deputy assistant dean spoke up. “Perhaps we need to look elsewhere for our inspiration. What is it that almost every college but ours has?” He didn’t wait for a response when he declared the college needed fraternities and sororities.
“How do we know the students will even want to participate?” asked the president. “Most of our students have no desire to participate in a system that humiliates them, strips them of their individuality, and causes them to walk six abreast down a narrow street while singing off-key.”
Perhaps,” suggested the deputy assistant dean, “we can tap our reserve fund and build a couple of fraternity houses, maybe a sorority house or two.”
“Will that guarantee we’ll get more common students to raise the enrollment?”
“If you build it, they will party,” said the deputy assistant dean.
“Winslow may have a bright idea here,” said the president, who immediately promoted him to vice-president of academics and parties.
[Walter Brasch bracketed several years as a college professor with work as a journalist and multimedia writer/producer. His current book is Before the First Snow, a light-hearted, yet tragic, look at what happens when an energy company moves into a region, lures citizens with high-paying jobs in a depressed economy, but which may have significant health and environmental issues as byproducts.]