Earlier this week, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) published information on the state of career services operations. Their results indicate an overall decline in salaries, operating budgets, and general support despite increasing demand for services including extensive data collection on post-graduation employment outcomes.
The truth is that these issues are not unique to just career services offices. International Services, Advising, Registration, Enrollment Management, and many other offices are seeing increased service expectations despite shrinking staffs and stale budgets.
Between new budget realities and increased service offerings, I often hear from colleagues in student and academic affairs that say increasing staff, budgets, and space will solve all their problems. While more money, more staff, and more space seems nice on the surface, I often wonder whether this “investment” really leads to the type of long-term sustainability and transformation that is expected in today’s marketplace.
The face of higher education is changing and institutions need to work smarter and think creatively about both student life and academic offerings in a way that hasn’t been required to this point. While the appetite for higher education hasn’t diminished greatly, today’s education consumer is much more savvy and informed. They are expecting high-levels of concierge services for a reasonable investment that will lead to a defined return on that investment. This means that higher education administrators and faculty must think creatively about how they structure the student experience, academic programs, and access. This likely means challenging long-standing traditional culture and strategy. It means developing leaner and more flexible organizations that are able to react – in real time – to the marketplace. It means looking outside the organization for an assessment – and feedback. It also means being open to productive and strategic change.
It’s a whole new day for higher education in America. Rather than pointing to shrinking budgets and staff and stating that more money, staff, and resources will solve the problem, let’s take a moment to define what the real problem is. Let’s also look at the organization – the culture, strengths, and strategic goals – to make investments that will both transform and strengthen the institution and the important services and resources offered to students. It’s the more difficult path, but it’s the right one. Let’s start being proactive stewards focused on flexibility, transformation, and strength and move away from the change-weary reactionary organizations define much of the marketplace today.