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“It’s the Economy, Stupid!”

For those of us who work in higher ed, this is probably the most important article that you will read this week. Budget shortfalls and changes in state support very clearly top the list of the most pressing issues for college and university campuses according to campus CEOs. Well, duh. If these issues were not at the top of the list for a CEO, we would have to immediately find the yellow brick road that takes us to that campus! As expected, most campuses have responded with changes you would expect…cutting admin costs, hiring more part-time faculty, raising tuition and student fees. What many institutions are not doing (according to the survey) is making some really tough decisions about cutting fixed costs such as unsustainable benefits guarantees to retirees and making real, substantial changes to the core business model for their institutions.

Employee costs are easily the largest “cost” for institutions (and rightly so), but what are we HR professionals contributing to the conversation and decision-making that is proactive instead of reactive? As HR professionals, we must be willing to suggest different business models and different, more efficient, staffing models to support the needs of the institution.  Our campus CEOs need our help in wrestling with these issues…even if they don’t naturally think of their chief HR officer( CHRO) as a critical contributor to the conversation and decision-making. For those CHROs who are not part of the proactive conversations and decision-making, it is definitely time to step up and offer guidance and suggestions. I am extending this invitation to you even if your campus CEOs have not yet done so. Your help and guidance is needed. Now its your responsibility to figure out the necessary channels to use so that you can be heard.

I know that many higher ed CHROs are helping drive conversations and decision-making during these very challenging budget times. I welcome your feedback to this post to share with us what you are doing to contribute to the development of better business models and staffing models for your campus.

Andy Brantley

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  • Andy –
    Your post is right on. Based on my own higher ed experience (Middlebury College) and those of my children (NYU), there is nothing more important than the quality of the teaching and mentoring that happens. In fact, this is probably one of the biggest competitive advantages that campuses will have over online learning for some time to come.

    While I empathize with the budget concerns of higher ed CEO’s, they won’t attract students and build a reputation if their own talent management strategy is lacking. This is where the CHRO can have a distinct impact on the success of the institution.

  • Mary Maher

    How many times will the gauntlet be thrown down to HR leadership to challenge ourselves and step up – in some cases against the odds?

    We can no longer simply be satisfied by having a seat at the table, we must risk and proactively work the table. We must bring ‘prophecy’ to the conversation…anticipating institutional needs, growing our understanding of local, regional and national workforce trending and the impact of such on our campuses. We must articulate what our institutions’ talent needs are and will be and whether or not we are positioning to source, influence and welcome our futures in securing and retaining that high calibre talent.

    Our perception of diversity must again grow beyond ethnicity, gender, and generations, but to also be inclusive of work styles and innovative thinking that may uncomfortably push the workforce legacy models indicative of our institutions’ penchant for that which is familiar. I applaud those who accepted and pursue the risks of such inclusion and bring sustainable change with efforts that build institutional effectiveness and thus ‘profitability’ while I endlessly encourage others to evaluate their choices…to consciously consider and ask the difficult questions about our relationship with that which is familiar and the efforts required to push our very self to be more than we imagined we could be.

    I have experienced many colleagues who, if they stopped to ask themselves some of these difficult questions, arrive at the thought that they ‘are done’ – that they have ‘arrived’ – who use their knowledge, experience, and years in the field as a kind of passport to continue contributing at the level they always have…but the truth is, more is needed in the name of what is relevant today and thus sustainable tomorrow. We must both mentor and learn from those who are stepping up as future replacements. We must seek the unknown together, knowing when to lead and when to get out of the way…but not so far away that our futures can’t hear our cheering from the sidelines and encouraging feedback that creates the solutions in moving higher education forward.

    Ours is a noble profession and will only remain as such as long as we refuse to be lured by the power of the legacy at the expense of the future. Both have value…one as a point of learning…the other as a solemn promise we must renew everyday to remain and grow our relevance. Begin with the commitment to relentlessly teach your institution’s leadership what HR really is…its science and its art.

    Let’s keep the conversation going.

  • Betsy Rodriguez

    Couldn’t agree with you more. Not only are most going after obvious cuts such as people costs they are focused on short term solutions. Many believe when Econ issues are over everything goes back to ‘normal’. But normal has changed for reasons other than economy (eg competition for new online learning) and the old ways of doing business are not sustainable. CHROs who figure this out and offer long term solutions (80% of higher ed budgets are people

  • Betsy Rodriguez

    Couldn’t agree more! Short term cuts are not sustainable even after economic crisis subsides. CHROs who offer viable ling term solutions will be Heros.