This is a truly challenging time to be immersed in the world of higher education. We are all dealing with “unprecedented” challenges that affect every aspect of our institutions and that have no playbook we can refer to for guidance. However, there is reason to remain hopeful despite the current state of the job market and severe budget shortages at many institutions.
First, it is important to look back at the previous recession and analyze its effect on higher education. One major effect was an influx of students after institutions lowered tuition prices in order to make themselves more attractive in the market. In fact, there were as many as 2.1 million more enrollments than expected due to the recession (Soares & Smith, 2020). Many of these new students were post-traditional, returning to college as an opportunity to augment their skill sets as they prepared to reenter the workforce after a period of unemployment. We are now more prepared to meet these students’ needs after essentially every institution used at least some online learning methods during spring 2020. Moving forward, it will be critical for institutions to continue to develop programs and methods of instruction to meet the needs of this student population, especially as the number of traditional-aged students declines in many areas of the country.
Second, there are exciting opportunities for innovation in higher education on the horizon. Almost every sector of employees has shown they can work remotely full-time and get plenty of work accomplished. I am hopeful this will mean more flexibility and options for student affairs professionals and other staff to engage in flexible work arrangements. Some of us (myself included) can be much more productive at home, especially once children and partners are back at school/work. I encourage institutions to broaden their flexible work arrangement options and #SAGrads/#SAPros to talk with their supervisors about continuing to work from home once we are in our “new normal”. While we are heavily student-facing, it is possible to group meetings and student interactions such that one could work from home one or more days per week. This could allow us to block our work a bit more, allowing for more efficiency and focus on the tasks of each day.
In addition to expanding flexible work arrangements, this is a time for institutions and supervisors to reevaluate all sorts of processes and procedures on campus and in their departments. This could be a time to move some paper-based processes online, to bulk up the departmental website to provide answers to more frequently-asked questions, or think about ways to provide training and manuals in an electronic format. We have shown how we can adapt quickly to the changing needs of our institutions and students already, so I encourage us to take that energy and apply it to other aspects of our operation.
In the past, I have been disheartened by the stagnation and bureaucracy inherent in many institutions of higher education. However, the response to this pandemic has given me hope that colleges and universities that embrace this time and use it to be truly innovative will survive and thrive into the future. We must rise up to meet the needs of all the generations of students who currently engage on our campuses, and who will do so in the future. It has been wonderful to see all the resource-sharing on professional association listservs, webinars, and social media posts. We certainly are all in the same boat with the challenges we currently face. Let’s stay optimistic that we can rise to the challenge together.
Author: Jess Shapiro (she/her/hers) works as the Assistant Director of the Campus Center at Ithaca College and is the Membership Coordinator for the NPGS KC. She loves movies, musicals, and baking. Jess can be found on Twitter at @jshap722.
Soares, L. & Smith, B. (2020, May 4). Higher education will be forced to do this recession differently, and that’s a good thing. Higher Education Today, American Council on Education. https://www.higheredtoday.org/2020/05/04/higher-education-will-forced-recession-differently-thats-good-thing/