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  • Writer's pictureErin Crisp

A Fable for Higher Education

Chapter 1- The State of Chicken U

President Angie stared at the new enrollment numbers for the fall at Chicken U. Down another hundred from last year. For over ten years, Chicken U had experienced a steady decline, but this year was the worst of them all. Only 550 chickens had come to the farm this fall, and only 50 chickens were taking classes in the Owl Line programs. Last year, the bird flu forced them to send all the chickens home in the middle of the semester. And while a gift from the humans in Big City had kept their doors open, Angie knew that they would not survive for long unless they found something to turn the college around. She couldn’t sit still, so she decided to take a quick stroll around the farm campus. Several classes were in session in the Gen Ed Barn. Dr. Sissa was teaching Bird Brains, a chicken psychology class. Dr. Luna was teaching The Chicken Manual, a course central to the mission of the college. Angie could see that the classes weren’t even half full. There were twelve chickens in Manual and only six in Bird Brains. Six wasn’t even enough to pay Dr. Luna’s salary. The Science Barn had needed an upgrade for years. Professor Tillie, a particularly creative hen, had blown part of the roof off in an unfortunate chemistry experiment three years ago. They had managed to patch it every year, but the barn really needed a new roof. The Chicken Finance Officer (CFO) had been saying for years that they needed to fund the depreciation of the barns and coops, but they just hadn’t had the money to do it. Beyond the classroom barns were the student coops. Angie reminisced on the days fifteen years ago when they built a new coop almost annually because their enrollment kept growing. But those days were gone. Now half of the student coops were empty, and they had crammed the currently enrolled chickens into as few as possible to save on staffing and heating in the winter. Of course, the less desirable the coop conditions were, the more prospective chickens chose to attend colleges with more comfortable coops. It was a vicious cycle. Cuts saved money in the short term but then cost money if any students were lost as a result in the long term.

At the edge of the property was the Owl Line program. Housed in what had been a collection of chicken faculty offices, Angie usually encountered a handful of exhausted looking owls when she visited the property. Junior owls were often sitting at cubicles, talking on the phone with students, solving technical issues, and creating new courses with senior owls via the Internet. It was a part of the campus that many chicken faculty never visited, and some preferred to forget even existed. Some chicken faculty even had doubts about the quality of the Owl Line program. The Owl Line building was bigger than a coop but not quite big enough to be called a barn. Angie stepped inside.

“Hello, Dr. Fitz,” Angie said, startling the old owl. Once upon a time he had been a business professor to the farm chickens, but in one wave of cuts he managed to keep his job by moving to the Owl Line. “You scared me,” he said. It looked like he had been dozing on his perch. “I was just taking a quick nap before I fly off to Small City for an evening class.” In addition to classes at a distance, Owl Line also managed to hold classes at other physical locations. Read More.

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