Faculty, Staff Are Burned Out. How Should Higher Ed Respond?


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Aired January 12, 2023

Andy Brantley, president and CEO of CUPA-HR, joins the podcast to talk about employee burnout and retention strategies institutions should be thinking about post-pandemic. Before that, Jon, Sarah, and Mushtaq get into what the new Congress has in store for higher education policy moving forward.

Here are some of the links and references from this week’s show:


These Republicans Were Selected to Chair House Committees After Speaker Battle Delay
The Hill | Jan. 9, 2023

What To Know About Biden’s Income-driven Repayment Proposal
The New York Times (sub. req.) | Jan. 10, 2023

Conversation with Andy Brantley

The CUPA-HR 2022 Higher Education Employee Retention Survey: Initial Results

The CUPA-HR 2022 Higher Education Employee Retention Survey: Focus on Supervisors

The Great Attrition Is Making Hiring Harder. Are You Searching the Right Talent Pools?
McKinsey | July 13, 2022

Great Expectations: Making Hybrid Work Work
Microsoft | March 16, 2022

It’s Not About the Office, It’s About Belonging
McKinsey | Jan. 13, 2022

New EY Consulting Survey Confirms 90% Of Us Workers Believe Empathetic Leadership Leads To Higher Job Satisfaction and 79% Agree It Decreases Employee Turnover
Ernst & Young | Oct. 14, 2021

Majority of Workers Who Quit a Job in 2021 Cite Low Pay, No Opportunities for Advancement, Feeling Disrespected
Pew Research Center | March 9, 2022

Staffing Woes Continue at Community Colleges, Stalling Their Pandemic Recovery
The Chronicle of Higher Education (sub. req.) | Dec. 16, 2022


 Read this episode's transcript

Jon Fansmith: Hello and welcome to dotEDU, the higher education policy podcast, from the American Council on Education.

A little later in our episode, we're going to be joined by Andy Brantley, who is the president and CEO of CUPA-HR, the higher education HR professionals organization. And we're going to be talking about a subject that I think Mushtaq and Sarah will have a lot to say on too: employee burnout and retention strategies institutions should be looking at. It's a really fascinating conversation. Andy is a great person, great speaker on the subject, has a lot of interesting information to pass on, so something I think we'll all be looking forward to.

But before we get to Andy, Mushtaq Gunja, Sarah Spreitzer, my illustrious cohosts, good to see you both today.

Sarah Spreitzer: Happy New Year, guys.

Mushtaq Gunja: Yeah, Happy New Year to you.

Jon Fansmith: Happy New Year, and welcome back. I should point out that you both just flew in last night, to be here in time for this recording. That's the only reason you came back when you did, right?

Sarah Spreitzer: That's right.

Mushtaq Gunja: Well, and to see you.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah.

Jon Fansmith: Aw.

Sarah Spreitzer: No family obligations at all, just to do this podcast.

Jon Fansmith: Great. I always put family second to the podcast.

Mushtaq Gunja: So, friends.

Jon Fansmith: So, a lot going on. Yeah!

Mushtaq Gunja: Yeah. I mean, since we last talked, I think the House held somewhere around 193 votes for Speaker.

Jon Fansmith: Roughly. Yeah, roughly?

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah. It at least seemed like that.

Jon Fansmith: And they all came to the exact same total, except the last one.

Mushtaq Gunja: You know, I was, actually I'm sort of sad to admit this, but I was watching on Friday night, at midnight, C-SPAN, to see what was going to happen because I am that big a dork. And it occurred.

Jon Fansmith: If it makes you feel better, Mushtaq, I would watch with my children, which is not only testimony to how big a dork I am, but that I'm apparently passing it on, either genetically or behaviorally to them.

Mushtaq Gunja: No, us too. So my son was yelling "Stop the count!" at the TV when Hakeem Jeffries was momentarily ahead and was going to be Speaker. So now, this is what happens when you raise kids in the DMV.

So, friends, Jon, Sarah, we have a Speaker, we have a House, and we've got committees. So what do we know about House Education?

Jon Fansmith: So it's going to be an interesting year, and I think as the week spent trying to select a Speaker underscores, it's a pretty chaotic scene in the House, and there's not really any margin for leadership to....Kevin McCarthy now has the least enviable job in Washington, D.C. He's going to have to try to do things wherein he's really beholden to any number of parts of his caucus. So the outlook for actual legislation is pretty grim.

In terms of the committees, it's looking like kind of they're running back what they did last year. Virginia Foxx got a waiver. She will now get to be the Chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee, now officially Education Workforce, from Education Labor. And the ranking member will be Bobby Scott on Appropriations. Same chair and ranking member, just essentially flipping seats. Mostly, we'll probably see a lot of the same on the committee level.

Sarah, I don't know if some other committees you track too, or other thoughts you might have on that?

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah, yeah. I think for higher ed, it's good news that Frank Lucas from Oklahoma is going to chair the Science Committee. He was ranking member, he worked on some bipartisan bills including America COMPETES Act, and then later the CHIPS and Science Act, and so I think that's good news for higher ed.

I think a couple of unknowns are the new China select committee, which is likely going to be looking at partnerships between U.S. institutions of higher ed and China and foreign gift reporting and things like that. That is a new committee that's going to be chaired by Mike Gallagher from Wisconsin. And Congressman Gallagher had some very pointed questions while he was in the minority to universities regarding things like foreign gift reporting, and in fact had proposed a few bills. And because this is a select committee, they're going to drawing on other committee leadership, including, I think, Education and Workforce. And so I wouldn't be surprised to see Congresswoman Foxx being involved in that select committee, especially when it comes to issues of higher education.

Jon Fansmith: And it's probably also worth mentioning, today is the day they're going to start filling out the committee assignments for people below the chair and ranking member. As we record this on a Wednesday, January 11th, we will find out in the next couple of days who fills out the committees.

I think probably also for our purposes, one of the things that's interesting is Education Labor, or Education Workforce, used to be a not very highly sought committee among Republicans. That's actually changed. Education is a big electoral issue for Republicans now, and you're going to see not just more people clamoring to get onto that committee, but more people with a stronger partisan bent, looking to get in and push some views across that they have been campaigning on. So it will be an interesting, probably more partisan committee than we've seen in past years.

Sarah Spreitzer: I think, Jon, and I should mention Jim Jordan is going to chair Judiciary in the House. And he is someone who is very partisan. I think you could probably say the same about some of the other committees. I think that makes it even less likely for any legislation that the House passes to be considered in the Senate. Even if they do get anything passed, I think all of these committees are being set up to do messaging bills and not really any sort of legislation that they expect will eventually pass and end up on the president's desk. And I think we are going to be very busy responding to proposals that are actually not going to go anywhere.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, and that point about the Senate too is really, I think, important. Because one of the other things, and we moved on from Kevin McCarthy being elected Speaker. But to do that, I mean everybody knows this by now, he made a large number of concessions to the House Freedom Caucus and members who wanted things done.

A lot of those are procedural, how the House is governed, and the orders in which bills are brought, and how amendments can be offered. They'll have an impact on the work we do, but to the general public, not so interesting.

The thing, I think, that's really important in terms of what the Senate's going to do and whether things will be done, there are a lot of requirements around appropriations. Bills essentially have to be moved individually. They want to get rid of omnibuses, which is the only way Congress has been able to pass funding in past years. They want to make sure that funding bills adhere to the budget resolution, which theoretically is what Congress should be doing, realistically is rarely what they do. The flexibility not to follow it allows them to strike deals.

They want to make sure that if there is no funding in place by September 30th, that it's harder to get a CR, the extension of it, which increases the likelihood of a government shutdown. They also want to set funding levels overall, capped on that FY22 levels, which would be huge cuts, to both defense and nondefense. And then recently they said, "Well, we didn't actually mean to cut defense, we're just going to take all of that money that would have been cut from defense, and further take it out from nondefense." Were they to do that, that would actually be about a 25% cut in all nondefense programs. That's massive. So a lot there.

The other thing that came up was the debt ceiling. And a requirement that no House support for the debt ceiling goes forward unless there's an equivalent amount of cuts to mandatory spending. That's mostly Social Security, Medicare, things like that. But there's a big portion of Pell Grants that's mandatorily funded. Cuts to mandatory programs could be really harmful to higher education in a lot of different ways. And even if those cuts are never implemented, the president would never sign off on them, the Senate is very unlikely, Democratic-led Senate very unlikely to do that. The risk with the debt ceiling is of course that it's not a matter of resolving how you're going to deal with it, but that any delay in raising the debt ceiling can cause global economic collapse.

So, I guess, guys, put your money into gold sometime around June, when that little month before the debt ceiling's set to fall. Because it looks like it's going to be a rocky road.

Mushtaq Gunja: Or platinum, right? Because I feel like this platinum coin may well get minted.
It's really interesting, because I think what this last week has demonstrated, is that, and it is that something we knew, McCarthy is going to have a really, really hard time keeping this caucus together.

And I think if I were President Biden, I think I probably would not try to go down the President Obama road, of trying to negotiate a debt ceiling increase right at the last minute with the Republicans. I mean, it's just going to be very, very difficult. So I wonder if some of these negotiations are really going to start basically now. They won't go anywhere. But I'm not entirely sure what's going to happen. I imagine we're headed for a government shutdown. I mean there is no way to pass a budget under these House rules. It's not going to, they're not going to be able to get a majority of their conference, I think.

One thing that this, this Republican disarray, I think, will be interesting to see what happens politically. Because I think that they will get blamed for a government shutdown if they end up bringing this thing down. It doesn't feel like they have a cohesive set of messages, at least not yet. And I don't really see that changing with this cast of characters.

Jon Fansmith: No, no. One thing on that, too. But this really narrow margin, if you are the Biden administration, or you're the Democratic leadership in the House, in some ways given the restraints Kevin McCarthy is operating under, he's not the person you want to negotiate with. There's 20, 25 swing state Republicans. Freshmen, others who are vulnerable for reelection, who don't want to see a government shutdown. Who don't want a debt ceiling default hung on their heads next election cycle. That might be the group you reach out to, and you start developing those relationships. Because, even if you need them as a failsafe on two votes, they're a lot more likely to work with you. And there's frankly very little Kevin McCarthy can do. It's such a small minority. You only need to peel off a handful of votes to pass things that the majority would oppose.

Mushtaq Gunja: Yeah, that's right. We'll see. I think funding runs out in September, is that right?

Jon Fansmith: The end of the fiscal year is September 30th, yes.

Sarah Spreitzer: Mmhm.

Mushtaq Gunja: So go visit your national parks, dear listeners, before...some time this summer

Sarah Spreitzer: Before September

Jon Fansmith: Before October, yeah

Mushtaq Gunja: Hey, Jon, yesterday, as we're recording this again on a Wednesday, yesterday the Department of Education announced some changes to the income-based repayment plans. Do you want to tell us a little bit about what the Department announced?

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, they announced two things. And this is really a follow-up to the president's announcement last August, where he talked about a range of issues, one of them being student loan forgiveness. But this is two key components of it.

The income-driven repayment plan that they are proposing. It's essentially a reworking of an existing plan that was created under the Obama administration. It's being done through the agency's authority. There's no law that created this. They are doing this under their own authority. Essentially, it's making the single most generous repayment plan that's based on how much a person can earn. It cuts the amount that you would repay from 10% to 5%. It addresses what are seen as a lot of the problems, the complexities, of existing income-driven repayment plans, in terms of how you might coordinate income with your spouse, what happens if you have entered forbearance or default, how that's treated. They do a lot of different things.

Some of it is very technical to make it easier for borrowers to stay in good standing with their loans and, frankly, pay less. It's a very generous plan. It's by far the most generous plan existing in the federal government's repayment system. It also costs a lot of money because it is that generous.

It's probably likely to be challenged in court because Republicans, that is their avenue for stopping these large policy agendas. We'll see.

They had teased out some of this in the fall through negotiated rulemaking and other things. It's not unexpected that we would see it. But it's a big change, and something that if implemented would be hugely beneficial for borrowers, but still faces a rocky road.

The other thing they announced along with that, they introduced, essentially, they asked, put out what's called a request for information, essentially asking the public, "Tell us what you think about this." And they want to create a watch list of programs, an accountability watch list around the idea of identifying which programs give really bad returns for students. Which ones are putting them in perilous economic situations, requiring you to borrow a lot, not paying you a lot when you leave, low completion rates, things like that.

Really is a way of increasing the transparency, giving a warning to students, and I think we can realistically assume as the first step towards more stringent federal accountability measures that might start to preclude funds going to those programs. So it's the first step in that process. Really the first step, they're just asking for information to be provided. But you can see this is in many ways a continuation of efforts that were put forward by the Obama administration, as you're well aware, Mushtaq, continuing on some of the trends we've seen.

Interesting in that it's really focused at the programmatic level, not the institutional level. And particularly attentive, if you read the request for information, they're talking about certificate programs for undergraduates and then graduate programs are the two areas they see as the biggest problems. So you think about your master's programs, that high borrowing rates, low returns, things like that.

It'll be interesting to see where it goes, it's a 30-day comment period, expect ACE will be working with others to file comments on that. And we'll take it from there. But two, again, not entirely unexpected, but big initiatives to help the administration right out of the gate, using their authority.

Sarah Spreitzer: Jon, we've talked about this before, that when Congress is at a standstill, when they're unable to do things, we see a lot of action on the regulatory front. And I think this year it's going to be regulations on steroids. A lot of things that the Biden administration is going to try and push because they're unable to pass legislation, or initiatives like student loan forgiveness are stuck in the courts. And so they are going to try and push the envelope on regulation. I could see us being very busy this year on working with the federal agencies as they try to implement some of these ideas.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, no, I think that's exactly right. And they put out what's called the Unified Agenda for the Department of Education. It essentially talked about what they want to do regulatorily. And it is long list. They have a lot of things they are trying to do. Big ones like Title IX and gainful employment. But lots of things along the lines of what I was just talking about, lots of, you might call them administrative changes to the way they handle different programs. A lot of new ones are going to be implemented. There's changes to the FAFSA.

There's a lots that's happening there. And it's in part because Congress can't or won't act. And they can't or won't act also in their oversight role. There's going to be a ton of hearings in the House. Virginia Foxx jokes about doing two hearings a day. They're going to do a lot of hearings.

But at the end of the day, they might be embarrassing at times for the administration. But they're not going to be able to stop them from putting forward their agenda. Really, the courts are the only stopping point in terms of blocking these regs.

Mushtaq Gunja: Well, really looking forward to this conversation with Andy. Happy New Year to you both.

Sarah Spreitzer: Happy New Year.

Jon Fansmith: Happy New Year. And we'll be back right after the break with Andy.

And welcome back. As we mentioned at the top of the episode, we are joined today by one of my favorite people in higher ed here in D.C., Andy Brantley, who is the president and CEO of CUPA-HR. And welcome to our show.

Andy Brantley: Thank you, Jon, so great to be able to have this conversation with you today.

Jon Fansmith: It is great to have you here too. And you're one of my favorite people. We've interacted in a variety of different ways. And particularly given the constituency you represent, a very important player in federal policymaking, and kind of a wide spectrum of institutional policy issues. But for those people who may not be wholly familiar with CUPA-HR, shame on them first of all. But secondly, do you want to tell them a little bit about the organization and what you do there?

Andy Brantley: Absolutely, thank you, Jon. So CUPA-HR, otherwise known as a very long title, the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, we are the higher education HR professionals on campus. So our membership includes representatives from almost 2,000 colleges and universities. And speaking of representatives, we just crossed 34,000 representatives from those institutions.

So when we talk about anything related to not just human resources, but the higher education workforce, those issues are first and foremost on our minds, as it relates to things we need to be doing to help lead and support higher education.

Jon Fansmith: And issues relating to higher education workforce is exactly why we have you here today. And it's an issue, frankly, that we are a little bit, or not a little bit, we're long overdue in addressing on this podcast, because it's one of the things, frankly, we are hearing the most about from our members, that we are seeing talked about in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, the trade press, and, frankly, national press, not even higher ed specific. We're in a bit of a crisis, as it comes to employee burnout, employee retention. Can you tell us just a little bit about where higher ed stands in this moment?

Andy Brantley: So, Jon, I'll start by echoing what you just shared. We are in a recruitment and retention crisis. And for some of our colleges and universities, these challenges are pretty extraordinary. Before we dive into some of the specifics with higher education, let's take just a few minutes and talk about some things that we're seeing around the country. Just employers in general. And I want to use just some quick comments from recent reports to just give us a flavor for the things that are happening across the country.

There was a July 2022 McKinsey report. Competition remains fierce. At the end of May, there were over 11 million job vacancies across the country. And as we talk about voluntary quit rates, for some organizations, the quit rate was 25% higher than pre-pandemic levels. There was a Microsoft 2022 Trend Index report that said 43% of the workforce is considering leaving their jobs in the next year. There was a great September '21 report from McKinsey that talked to individuals who had just recently left their jobs. 54% said they didn't feel valued by their managers. 52% that recently left said they didn't feel valued by their organizations. And 51% said they did not feel a sense of belonging at work. And as no surprise to any of us, all of these percentages were higher for people of color.

There was also an Ernst & Young report that found that 49% that had recently left their jobs did so because they felt that their employers were unsympathetic to their challenges. And as not surprising to any of us also, there was a Pew study just in the last few months that said 45% that had recently left indicated that they were leaving because of lack of flexibility, and not surprisingly, almost half said that childcare issues were also front and center for them as part of the reasons that they either left or transitioned roles.

With that wonderful backdrop to talk about some of the things that are framing the workforce overall, I look forward to talking with you specifically about some of our higher education challenges.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, and that's actually really helpful context because I think we tend to, I know I certainly do, tend to have a very narrow focus on higher ed, and what's the impact, and what's going on in our world? And it's helpful to think about this in the context of, we are not alone in this area.

All employers are facing this. But I'm a little curious, are there specific challenges in our world that are unique to higher education that more generally we're not seeing in the economy?

Andy Brantley: I think that it is important for us to acknowledge we're not alone in our efforts to recruit and retain key talent across the organization. A little framing in terms of turnover, and I get asked this question, frequently asked this question, as I'm talking with groups around the country.

So what does turnover look like across higher education? And from our data collection last year, just kind of a quick tangent, the CUPA-HR data collection, which is one of the things that is one of our most important roles across higher education is that on an annual basis we collect data on the higher education workforce. And the dataset for the 2021-22 academic year included information on over 760,000 incumbents across higher ed. And as we were looking at that data for last year, the turnover rate for full-time exempt staff, across the country, was just over 15%, 15.1%. For non-exempt staff, that percentage turnover rate was 17%.

So let's put this in real numbers. So if we're talking exempt staff, we're thinking everything from presidents, provosts, VPs, deans, directors, department heads, to our professional-level groups across the campus. So that means that one out of every six or seven of those individuals is new. New to their role, new to their position.

And for our nonexempt staff, so think all of these positions that are typically paid on an hourly basis across the country, one out of every six of those individuals is new to their role within the last year.

We're currently in the process of data collection now for this year, and it's going to be very interesting to see just what that means for higher education this year. One thing that's also very important with turnover is that we kind of pinpoint those areas that are the major points of pain for our organization. What is different now with, say, for example, food service employees compared to pre-pandemic. Or student life positions, compared to pre-pandemic. If we have the opportunity, I would like to talk about our recent employee retention survey and some of the outcomes from that.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, I would like to get into that, actually. In part because, for years we have been hearing about retention issues, particularly in IT services, you mentioned student life is another area where there's been retention issues. So yeah, get into it.

You mentioned food services. This is clearly something that's beyond just those areas that have gotten the most attention. So I'm a little curious to hear what you have to say.

Andy Brantley: Yeah, thank you for that, Jon.

I also emphasize the importance of us thinking about the entire higher education workforce. Including those areas that unfortunately we most often overlook, like our food service employees, our building service employees, critically important colleagues to sustain the culture and operations of our campuses. And I have some examples that I'll share with you and our colleagues in just a few minutes on those.

The retention survey that we did in May of last year, really tried to give us better information on, number one, are employees looking for other jobs? Why are they looking for other jobs? What are some of the benefits that might hold them in place? And one of the things that we found that was in some ways surprising, in some ways not, is that approximately 35% of higher education employees are likely, are very likely, to be looking for new employment opportunities in the next year. And an additional 22% are somewhat likely. So it doesn't take a mathematician to figure out that's more than half of our higher education workforce that is considering other opportunities.

Where did they tell us they were looking? Almost two-thirds said they would look at other higher education institutions, so I guess that's the good news.

Jon Fansmith: That sounds positive.

Andy Brantley: Yeah, two-thirds.

Jon Fansmith: Don't want to leave higher ed.

Andy Brantley: Two-thirds said they might be looking at other higher education institutions. But 43% said that they would look for new employment within their current institution, so that's also good.

On the flip side, employees are not averse to looking at, and we know that, we have lots of examples around the country, not averse to looking outside of higher education. 64% said that they were considering for-profit companies. And another 51% said that they would also consider nonprofit organizations beyond higher ed.

Why did they tell us that they are looking? Not a surprise. And it's time for us to really acknowledge this. And again, there are great examples across the country, where we are acknowledging that we have gotten away, overall, with paying too little and requesting too much for too long. So that day of reckoning in terms of making sure that we are adequately and fairly compensating our employees is here. And so that was the key reason why people said they were looking for changes.

But also, 63, I'm sorry, 43% said they were looking for more remote work opportunities. More than a third said they wanted more flexible work schedules. And 30% said they are seeking promotion to assume other responsibilities.

One of, I think, the most important findings from this study is that our employees are also telling us they're working more hours than ever. Almost 10% said they're working 16 hours or more additional-

Jon Fansmith: Beyond their-

Andy Brantley: -per week than they were pre-pandemic.

So all of those things shape the thought processes of our employees in terms of why they might be looking for other potential opportunities now and into the near future.

Jon Fansmith: And I'm particularly stuck by that point about the 16 hours more than they were before the pandemic. Again, you hear a lot of stories about campus operations and people feeling stretched very thin. There are lots of revenue implications. For instance, expenses related to how you staff.

You mentioned that we've been getting away for a while in a lot of cases with not paying salaries comparable to the private sector, certainly the for-profit sector. Yet people are still looking within higher ed. What are some of the things that these intuitions that are successfully recruiting from other institutions, what are things you can do as an institution, as you look at this to say, "Well, yes. It would be great to invest a lot more money into what we are doing to pay people more." That would obviously be very helpful. But what are other approaches that are resonating with employees that are helping institutions find and retain good staff?

Andy Brantley: Some of the things that were also part of our request through the survey, but also some things that our chief HR officers are talking about around the country. In addition to providing adequate compensation, being very diligent about how we offer more remote and flexible options for work. I know that there is so much about the culture of many of our institutions that is connected to that in-person experience, that on-campus, and I put on-campus in quotes, experience for our students and how we need to be present to make that culture real.

On the flip side of that, it's really important to acknowledge that even minor changes to how we structure work, how we structure the work week, how we structure the working hours, can make a significant impact in our ability to recruit and our ability to retain some of our employees.

So as we think about hours, as we think about remote, and as we think about flexible schedule, it doesn't mean that we find ways to make all the positions fully remote, because that's just not a possibility for most higher education institutions and for most positions at higher education institutions. But that degree of flexibility for our employees is really, really important.

As I just mentioned, also being very mindful about workload and expectations around working hours. Particularly as it relates to our most, not just most productive employees, but most engaged employees. How do these employees know on an individual basis that their work matters every single day? So as supervisors, as we're running around trying to recruit and bring new colleagues on board, what is it that we're doing every day to make those that are engaged in the work, to help them feel connected? To help them feel that their work is important for what's going on for the institution overall?

As it relates to career development, one of the things that is specifically related to that that was a clear outcome from the survey is that, we do not do a good enough job of providing professional development for our colleagues. So as we think about career growth, as we think about career engagement, it doesn't necessarily mean that Jon and Andy need a clear career path. It's like, "Here are the four steps to you career path." But it does mean that there is intentionality behind what we're doing to help our employees enhance their skills, enhance their competencies, and feel connected that we're not just hiring them to do a job, but we're hiring them to be impactful for the long term.

Jon Fansmith: And that's really helpful. And related to that, something that you and I talked about before, too. On the recruitment side. You've talked a lot about different ways to show your employees that they're valued, to demonstrate the organization's commitment to them, and the path for them within the organization. But when you are bringing people on board, what are you finding? You've mentioned this to me that sometimes we, in higher ed in particular, tend to be very specific and very narrow in the kind of traits we're looking for, what we require of candidates. And you had an interesting take on that that I hope you can share with our listeners.

Andy Brantley: Thank you for bringing that up, Jon. So I encourage those that are listening to this podcast to take a few minutes and look at the current positions that are posted as available on their campus. Not just look at the laundry list of required competencies, but also the education and experience requirements.

So one of the things that we tend to do in higher education, and because we are education enterprises, is that we tend to expect too much in terms of academic credentials for many of our jobs. You know, do all of the jobs that are currently posted at the director level require a master's degree and 10 years of experience? Do all the positions, and this is a great example from IT positions. So IT positions, we're typically looking for a list of competencies or even certifications.

And there was a study, it was just in the last couple of years, that showed that even removing a couple of those competencies that are required, had the opportunity to significantly expand the applicant pool and potentially enhance our ability to recruit more diverse candidates. So one of the things that I always encourage my colleagues to do is look at those postings. And are we asking, are we asking too much in terms of how narrowly we're defining the small group of individuals who are going to meet all these competencies.

Also of significant importance is that research has shown that women and people of color are much less likely to apply for a job unless they feel like they can check every box. And that's different than most of us who are white males who might tend to apply, even if we can't check all those boxes.

So with all of those things in mind, if we're really looking to recruit a more diverse pool, and even just more applicants in general, how can we dial back some of those quote, unquote, required competencies to expand the pool? And in a very competitive landscape, it's also important for us to expect that we're not necessarily going to attract candidates with all the competencies we might feel like we need, and that part of our responsibility is growing people into those roles.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, it's something....If people take anything away from that, that seems like a very immediate practical consideration they can put into practice right now.

But we've been talking about higher education broadly, which is something we don't usually do. We like to emphasize the fact that higher education institutions are incredibly diverse in terms of their structure, their mission, their populations they serve. Are you seeing differences by sectors, you know, are large urban institutions faring very well, whereas small rural institutions may be struggling? Do these challenges, are they particularly acute in some areas and less pronounced in others?

Andy Brantley: That's a great question, Jon, and I think one of the things that all of us in leadership roles in higher education, when we're talking with individuals that aren't as connected to higher education, they have this assumption that there are these overarching things that impact every campus around the country. And while they're might be some overarching things, like a recruitment and retention crisis, some of the specific challenges can vary by institution. It can vary by area. It can also vary by the type of position that we're referencing.

So here are a few examples just from the last several weeks of my work with colleagues around the country. There was an example of a food service operation on campus that had to, that was asked to refund part of the student food service fee because the students perceived that the quality of what they were being provided was not what they had paid for. Underlying all of that was that there were more than 100 food service vacancies on that campus. So there is a clear example.

I was working with, I was speaking to a graduate student during November, and this person is a director of academic advising at a medium-sized campus in the Midwest. And what this person shared with me is that their provost and president aren't listening to her and other colleagues who have significant vacancies in their organizations and really aren't able to provide the services as designed pre-COVID. And at least this person's perception is that the provost and the president aren't listening to what the real challenges are in terms of providing those services for students. And part of the expectation being the academic advisors are in their office eight to five, Monday through Friday, when students may prefer to have appointments in the evening, or things like that.

Another example, there was an article in either The Chronicle or Inside Higher Ed just in the last couple of weeks that focused on the experiences of students trying to go through the admission and registration process for a community college. And a lot of those barriers that those students were facing were related to staffing shortages and the ability to provide those services as anticipated.

For student life professionals, one of the things that I think is really important for us to think about is what entices someone to go into a student life professional job today. And it might be a little different than maybe 20 or 30 years ago. And we're seeing this not only in some of the challenges we're having in recruitment and retention of early career student professionals, but even the pipeline for those choosing to move into those graduate programs.

I was in a conversation with a group of chief HR officers during December. And one of them said to his colleagues, "Whether we like it or not, my institution is very willing to recruit an IT professional,”—we're using an IT example—"who might be a mile from your campus, working for us on the other side of the country." So as we think about all of these challenges, what are the pain points for the particular institution, and how we hone in on some of those as part of our strategies moving forward.

Jon Fansmith: And you can see the impact, especially at a time when in higher ed, one of the other things we're talking about is declining enrollments. How do you not just get students in, also, but particularly, how do you support students on a campus? And we know that disproportionately low-income students, students of color, underrepresented groups, those services, those supports, particularly as you pointed out, maybe in nontraditional time frames, are really critical to their success. So good advice.

Speaking of advice, though, we are running towards the end of our run time, but I want to give you the opportunity to give a little bit more advice to our listeners. Things you would recommend from the CUPA-HR perspective that presidents, senior leaders, looking at all of these challenges that are crossing their plate, that they start thinking about doing, as soon as possible, I guess, or at least within a reasonable time frame.

Andy Brantley: So, Jon, there are several things. And, again, one of the things that you and I emphasized earlier is that, we have to focus on the issues of greatest concern. There are overarching things that we need to do. But where are those points of concern? Where's turnover higher than it was pre-pandemic? And some of our positions are designed to have frequent turnover, whether it be an admissions representative or some other position, like a residence director position. What are those anomalies, things that are vastly different now than they were before, and where to address those?

First and foremost, the day of reckoning in terms of adequate compensation for all of our positions is here. So whether we're talking about competing with the local market for some of our locally-sourced candidates, to across the country. The day of reckoning is here.

More remote and flexible options. Even if those are minor adjustments to working hours per day, working hours per week, a little flexibility. We have such a tendency to have an equality mind frame. It's easier to manage equality than it is equity that meets our employees where they are. That's a really important part of our work moving forward.

Workload and expectations, we talked about that.

Also, investing in our employees. Acknowledging their achievements, helping them grow, helping them learn.

Parental leave policies, we haven't talked about that. And childcare discounts and subsidies. Most of our parental leave policies are woefully inadequate. If we are to compete in an increasingly competitive market, we have to rethink our paid parental leave policies and what that means for our employees.

And I think one of the last things I would share is, or two things. One, we have to do a better job of communicating and promoting the things we're doing well. Higher education is overall a great place to work. We have, overall, a great culture. We have mission, we have purpose. All of these things that define the importance of our work. We need to become better at marketing all of those things as reasons to stay and reasons to come and be a part of the organization.

And one of the last things I would share is that we have to be willing to get rid some of our own cumbersome processes that impact our hiring and our retention efforts. So, for example, how many steps does it take for a person to apply for a job? How long does it take to fill a position? The private sector does not take three or four months to fill an administrative leader in their positions. And we often are caught, because we are stuck in our old ways of doing things that take forever to hire positions. For our employees that English is not their first language, or that have challenges reading or understanding things that might be on the web. We need to get rid of some of those barriers and be willing to rethink some of those processes to be more able to quickly hire and onboard employees across the organization.

Jon Fansmith: I love that as a place to end. You got kind of both ends of the spectrum there. Emphasize the things we're doing well and really start rethinking some of those things where our processes aren't serving us well. So, Andy, as always it was a pleasure talking with you. Thank you for joining us.

I will also say for people listening, you can't see, but Andy is wearing his University of Georgia jacket. I saw a University of Georgia cup earlier, as well. We are recording this the day after-

Andy Brantley: Right.

Jon Fansmith: I guess, a somewhat important football game. I don't know if-

Andy Brantley: Just a little important.

Jon Fansmith: -someone's paying attention. Slightly important. So you are representing your institution, your alma mater, with great pride, and deservedly. So Andy, thank you so much for coming on. I imagine we'll have a few more things to be talking with you about in the future.

Andy Brantley: Thank you so much, Jon. I appreciate the opportunity to talk with you, and the work that you and your ACE colleagues are doing is so important. And I'm so grateful for the opportunity for CUPA-HR to partner with you, to help our presidents and other leaders across the country.

Jon Fansmith: Well, thank you. And it's a partnership we really value, too. And thanks for joining us today.

Sarah Spreitzer: As always, you can check out earlier episodes and subscribe to dotEDU on Apple, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. For show notes and links to the resources mentioned in the episode, you can go to our website at acenet.edu/podcast. While there, please take a short survey to let us know how we're doing. You can also email us at podcast@acenet.edu to give us suggestions on upcoming shows and guests. And finally, a very big thank you to the producers who helped pull this podcast together. Laurie Arnston, Audrey Hamilton, Malcolm Moore, Anthony Trueheart, Rebecca Morris, Jack Nicholson, and Fatma Ngom. They do an incredible job making this happen, and making Jon, Mushtaq, and I sound as good as possible. Finally, thank you so much to all of you for listening.

About the Podcast

​Each episode of dotEDU presents a deep dive into a major public policy issue impacting college campuses and students across the country. Hosts from ACE are joined by guest experts to lead you through thought-provoking conversations on topics such as campus free speech, diversity in admissions, college costs and affordability, and more. Find all episodes of the podcast at the dotEDU page.

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