In higher education, “shrinking resources” has become a topic of conversation in the board room, the break room, and the classroom. While there are many ideas about what to do and what not to do, here are four elements to consider that are central to any management strategy.
Think about the students. What impact will shrinking resources have on your students? Will it mean that their costs rise which could reduce their ability to complete their education in the time they’ve planned? What about advisors, counselors and other services students rely on to succeed? Will these services be reduced so as to lose meaning? How will this play out in the classroom? Will students become stressed and overwhelmed? Will they disappear or disconnect? Being mindful of these possibilities and making choices to mitigate the negative impact on students should be the first thing a leader in higher education considers.
Think about the staff and faculty. What about the employees? What about those advisors and counselors; the staff that provide secretarial, janitorial, and food services; the instructors in the classroom? Even if their job is ‘safe’, they could be asked to serve more students, spending less time and effort on each engagement in order to increase their ‘productivity.’ Being mindful of the impact that shrinking resources has on employee morale and making choices that provide some measure of emotional support is critical to being a successful higher education leader.
Think about the college/university. We must not forget the ‘organism’ in which our students and our faculty and staff co-exist: the college/university campus. What happens to our campus when our resources shrink? Facilities grow stale, tired and less safe. We are unable to provide the cutting edge classrooms our students need and desire; our infrastructure weakens and we become vulnerable to risks. Being mindful that maintaining and growing the quality of our facilities while reducing financial and physical risk elements is critical to the long-term health of our colleges and universities.
Think about the community. What role does your campus play in the community? Are you a core jobs provider and the primary source of higher education options for your youth? What is your role within the business community? Being mindful of your role as a community partner will have an impact on the kinds of decisions you must make as a leader in higher education.
As leaders in higher education, we must be prepared to work hard to balance the interests we serve when making the difficult decisions required by our reality of shrinking resources.
Kathy Hanon, System Office Budget Director, Financial Planning and Analysis, MnSCU; Luoma Leadership Academy graduate (2011-2012 cohort)
Kathy works with Minnesota State College and Universities system office leadership and staff to provide information, advice and assistance about managing fiscal resources efficiently, with a focus on students, staff/faculty, campuses and community.