In feeble imitation of a man whom I greatly admire, and whose conservatism in language and radicalism in social politics I strive to emulate, I would like to offer
A Modest Proposal for a Community College
to address some of the difficulties with recruitment, admissions, and student conduct with which my College currently finds both its faculty and administrators concerned.
Whereas it is a melancholy object to the faculty to view students who assure us that they have more important things to do with their lives than do their homework,
that they have no money to purchase textbooks and trust the course will wait until such time as they are able to purchase them,
who respond to inquiries about books or homework by informing us that these items are at their homes,
who are shocked that they fail a reading course even while admitting they have read nothing during the semester,
who think a research paper can be completed within 48 hours of its due date,
who, on Friday afternoon, request assistance in reading 120 pages of history on which they will be tested the following Monday,
who engage in a 40-hour work week while attempting to complete 18 college credits,
who enter class late, leave while class is in session, answer their cell phones, text message, or conduct their social conversations while the instructor or their colleagues are speaking,
who consider class attendance to be optional,
who earnestly assure us that their position as a full-time students is undertaken because otherwise they will work at McDonald's all their lives,
or that their parents will no longer shelter them,
or that they will no longer receive dental care under their parents’ insurance;
and whereas it is a matter of distress to the administration that the faculty view with alarm the administration’s innovations for recruiting, placing, admitting, and retaining students, these innovations being,
one-stop shopping, so that for new students all admissions, placement, and registration issues can be resolved in less time than it takes to clear the check-out line at WalMart on a Tuesday morning,
the granting of 6 full credits in the English department for the possession of a single grade of 3 on either English AP exam,
the use of instant-magic computerized tests to place students into classes that satisfy their ambition if not their ability,
and whereas staff labor mightily to increase both the recruitment of new students and the retention of those already enrolled,
I propose this scheme of granting degrees from the College.
Each entering student, upon applying to the College, will be examined as to whether he is interested in a degree or an education leading to a degree.
Those students whose primary interest is purchasing a degree will be sent to the Degree Division where, upon filling out a one-page application, and upon the signing of a promissory note for $4,000 (currently the cost of tuition and fees to complete an associate’s degree), to be paid in monthly installments over two years, they will be granted the status of Full Time Student.
This status will enable them to assure their parents that they enrolled as full-time students and maintain their dental insurance under their parents’ policies.
It will not inconvenience them in the slightest, as they will not be required to attend any classes, join any clubs, read any books, write any papers, take any tests, nor, indeed, in any way participate in normal academic activities. Upon receipt of the final payment, in a period whose length must be at least 24 months from time of application, such student will be granted an Associate’s Degree from the College, to take into the world and use as best he might.
I have it on good authority from a former Cantabrigian that such a scheme works in the august halls of the highest institutions in that which we formerly referred to as our Mother Country, wherein after a period of two years after receiving a Bachelor's Degree, upon application and the payment of a predetermined sum, a student may acquire the Degree of Master without any further inconvenience as detailed above.
Those entering students who wish to acquire an education will be requested to plan three days of testing and meeting with counselors whereby they will be placed in the program most suited to their abilities and interests and whereby they may gain access to the superior education offered at the College. Upon completion of all degree requirements currently in place, they will be granted a Regents Associate’s Degree from the College, so distinguished from the Degree that involves no education.
Such a scheme offers benefits to all involved:
Students who do not wish to learn will no longer be compelled to do so.
Students who wish to learn will no longer be distressed by the presence in their midst of the students who disrupts the class, refuse to participate, do no work, and exhibit disrespectful behavior toward both peers and his mentors.
Further, the excellence of the education given to such students will increase, as the benefit to the faculty becomes clear:
The faculty will no longer gather in clusters in the hall bemoaning the high absentee rate, the high drop out rate, the lack of motivation, the lack of common courtesy, and the lack of intellectual curiosity on the part of their students, as the students who exhibit such characteristics will no longer be present on the campus.
As a result, faculty will approach their courses with renewed vigor, anticipating classes as a time of intellectual inquiry. With this knowledge, they will be willing to experiment with new formats and new materials, secure in the knowledge that, if such novelties do not accomplish their goals, at least their instigator will not be characterized as "mean," "unfair," or "stupid."
They will no longer spend their evening hours in the local bar lamenting the demise of the ability to read, think, write, spell, and add on the part of the students, and as a result, their minds will be clearer and more alert on Monday mornings.
The recruitment staff will bask secure in the knowledge that they are pleasing an unusually high proportion of applicants, that the retention rates will soar, and that the academic reputation of the College will continue to stand high.
The campus in general will be a more pleasant place for the Community, as the reduced on-campus population will eliminate any necessity for cutting activity period, will ensure smaller classes with fewer adjuncts, and will free monies for the adequate maintenance of facilities.
The employing corporations will be able to distinguish easily, by the name of the degree, those students who "don't want to work in McDonald's" and those who are eager to advance their own learning and the well-being of those around them.
As I am deeply grateful to have the honor of being employed by the College and have no intention of seeking employment elsewhere, and as, by the time such a proposal is accepted and put into force my daughter will have graduated with the requirements for the three or four degrees she is currently contemplating, it can be seen that I, personally, will not benefit by such a scheme but propose it entirely for the good of the Community.
Jane Arnold teaches English at a rural community college. She has been teaching and publishing for over 25 years. Her publications have primarily been polemics, essays, and memoir, but she has recently been publishing fiction. A short story appeared in the spring edition of The Bitter Oleander, and an essay on learning to write fiction is forthcoming in Writing on the Edge.