Friday, April 28, 2006


As my regular readers know, my cc is trying to increase its enrollment to compensate for declines in public funding. (The other option is serious internal cutting, but that tends to become self-perpetuating, as depleted programs attract fewer students.) One of the ways we’re trying to increase our visibility in the community is by directing resources internally to programs and departments that are good, active participants in public outreach. By getting out there in the community, the thinking goes, we will raise our profile and, over time, enrollments.

I’m with the program on this one, generally speaking. Incentives matter, so it’s important to think through the incentives facing individual departments to make sure they align with larger college goals. Some departments really go the extra mile for community visibility; others can’t be bothered. It seems reasonable to me to reward the former, and let the latter connect the dots for themselves. And in some cases, the results have been what we had hoped: programs that have gone the extra mile have seen increased enrollments, which we have faithfully rewarded with increased resources (to the extent we can).

Now that the program is beyond the embryonic stage, though, it’s starting to get complicated. Simply put, some programs lend themselves to Big Public Displays more easily than others do, through no fault of anybody. A program like Theater or Hospitality Management naturally lends itself to public display. Sociology or History, not so much.

Naturally, my trusty sociologists and historians picked up on this, and have asked how they’re supposed to compete for the limelight with disciplines that (in some cases literally) have their own limelights. (They’ve also asked just how they’re supposed to help build enrollment when their own courses are already stuffed to the gills.)

I’ve suggested inviting speakers to campus, and they’ve tried that a few times. (As a cc, we don’t have the budget to bring big names.) The events have been reasonably successful on their own terms, but they just don’t compete with plays or catered receptions. A sociology speaker we can afford might bring 25-50 people from the community, along with people who work here. A play might bring 200 a night for several nights. It’s just not the same.

To make the inequality worse, staging productions or receptions is an organic part of the curriculum for programs in theater or hospitality. Bringing speakers is an add-on for sociology or history. So they believe, with some justification, that they’re being doubly penalized simply for being who they are.

A few questions for my wise readers: do you know a way for the more traditional academic disciplines to raise their local public profiles without breaking the bank? And how can we reward outreach without inadvertently punishing programs that, by their nature, tend to be lower-profile?