Embracing the Zeitgeist: A Modest Proposal

by Anonymous

After hearing the CFO’S recent presentation speaking to the serious nature of Every Community College’s (ECC) looming financial meltdown, it occurred to me that I had heard basically the same presentation at least once a year, in various venues, ever since the arrival of the current Chancellor.  Apparently, despite the passage of the millage and the robust recovery of Every County property values since 2009, nothing changes how the budget numbers look.  I want the ECC community to know that the message of the presentation has finally sunk into my thick head, and I have to say, I am utterly alarmed.  Since what the administration repeatedly presents to us must be true, the administration itself is not taking meaningful action to address ECC’s obvious financial woes.  In fact, with the constant reliance on highly paid consultants and the raft of deans and associate deans being hired (does anyone know the collective noun used for deans?), the administration seems to be taking what might best be called a “Titanic-nearing-the-iceberg” approach. 

Obviously ECC needs to cut costs significantly.  The time for action is now.  We need proactive, incremental, straight-out-of-the-box solutions.  As the Chancellor reminded us at our last college-wide meeting, reliance on the old ECC, with its constant debate over how to best use resources, cannot continue.  Sensibly, we should go after the low hanging fruit first.  To this end, please consider the following suggestions with an open mind.  I think that, in the calm spirit of data-driven reason, they can’t be subject to the least objection:

Counseling

Academic advising brings with it substantial costs in human resources yet generates zero revenue, not a single ICH.  All counseling activities as they presently exist should be immediately eliminated.  Those confused individuals in need of the crutch that is career and program counseling are without a doubt that part of our customer base least likely to stick with a program of study and to earn a degree.  Their failure harms our success numbers and makes us look bad to accrediting agencies.  In a measurable way ECC would be better without any of this.

It’s time to bring counseling services into the twenty-first century.  All of our customers carry cell phones and think positively of constant cell phone use.  ECC should go to telephone counseling.  Moreover, we should introduce a new Associate of Science Degree.  Call it a degree in Psychological Guidance, or in Wireless Counseling, or some such name, and hire only graduates of this degree program to staff our future telephone counseling operation.  These graduates could be paid a sum nominally higher than minimum wage (say $1.00 per hour higher) and their success in landing a job would burnish ECC’s success numbers.  Even better, through internships and service learning activities these consumers essentially would be paying us for their job training.  In this way, what presently presents strong negatives in terms of personnel costs and student success benchmarks could be reimagined as a cost-center area that becomes a model of quantifiable empirical success.  Since it is at this point impossible to gauge demand for this future service, I recommend that the college start small, say one telephone counselor per campus.

Libraries

In these days of open internet access to all information, libraries carry with them more than a whiff of a dusty, forgotten antique store selling kitschy tchotchkes that end up in some granny’s attic—not the message that the new ECC needs to be sending.  Libraries incur infrastructure costs, acquisition costs, mailing costs, personnel costs, utility costs and generate precious little in terms of revenue.  Could anything be more wasteful than this month’s tabloid periodical sitting lonely in a forgotten corner of a climate-conditioned empty room, just to be tossed when the new issue arrives?

Still though, many people cling to a nostalgic love of old books.  We shouldn’t completely abandon our present library facilities.  Like we have with tutoring centers, we should go to “appointment only” use of the libraries.  These appointments could be made online.  If any given shift receives enough user appointments, then an on-call graduate of our the Library Tech program could come in to open the library, just as tutors come in only if scheduled, keeping personnel costs to a minimum.  Like the telephone counselors, these graduates could be paid at a rate nominally higher than minimum wage.  This would make our Library degree’s success numbers look really good.

No doubt some of our more thoughtless customers would abuse the appointment system, signing up and then not keeping their appointment, or taking an appointment when they really had no specific reason to be utilizing library resources.  As such, enrollees should be allowed only as many free library appointments per semester as they have registered contact hours for that semester.  Each library appointment scheduled beyond the number of paid contact hours would cost, say, ten dollars.  Under this system in the occasional semester the libraries might actually generate marginal revenue.

Bookstores

Like the buggy whips and whale oil lamps of the nineteenth century, the twentieth century bricks and mortar bookstore is unquestionably an untenable model whose best days lie behind.  Everyone looks to the internet for books first, yet we persist in stocking our stores with goods that can be purchased elsewhere for less, or simply won’t sell at any price, incurring unnecessary overhead.  Still though, with the existing 50% ECC bookstore markup on textbooks and our captive client consumer population any changes to the bookstore model take on an added dimension of delicacy to maximize financial gain.

ECC needs to get out of the losing bookstore business, but we must cater to the occasional user who actually wishes to read a textbook.  The simple solution is to rent out booth space on campus, in the existing bookstore footprints, to dealers of used textbooks and textbook buy-back distributors.  Not only could we collect rent for the booth space, the competition that such an arcade would engender would do much to keep book costs down for our users.  They could comparison shop different distributors, both in the purchase and the buy-back stages of education, and do so I assume with extended hours relative to what our bookstores now offer.  In this way ECC would move dramatically to a service-based approach to learning.

In every similar retail situation that I’ve ever encountered, be it shopping mall, flea market, antiques show, or gun and knife show, there has always been at least one booth at the site selling food, and usually doing brisk business.  We can assume that some hearty entrepreneur will open such a booth at our used book arcade, and this new model for campus book wholesaling would have the added benefit of bringing food to the campuses that presently do not have any food service available.  Fresh squeezed lemonade, cotton candy, and circus peanuts could do much to create the sort of festive atmosphere on campus that all merchandisers crave.  In the true spirit of America, our bookstore arcades could become drivers of local grassroots capitalism.

I hope that through these suggestions I haven’t presented the administration’s existing efforts at improving ECC’s financial situation in too harsh of a light.  Any reasonable person needs to acknowledge that the administration has made some minor efforts at curtailing costs.  Eliminating hot water and soap from the rest rooms in Woodsman Hall at the North Campus is just a start, an excellent idea that could be expanded to all sinks in all buildings at every campus.  Cutting back to one faculty secretary for the entire East Campus is a promising model that needs to be strongly considered for all facilities.  We might also consider whether all employees actually need their own office telephone.  After all, most people carry another telephone with them at all times.  Perhaps one phone line per department would actually simplify communications from administration to common workers college-wide. 

These suggestions are by no means meant to be all inclusive; I’m sure that with the wealth of intellectual talent at the college many new and financially lucrative initiatives could be dreamed up and implemented.  I intend merely to open the door to fresh ideas and efficacious communication.

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