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HR in the Higher Education Industry
While HR is universal in all industries, HR needs can vary in each industry. HR in the higher education industry is no different. This article dives into the impact and challenges HR can face in the higher education industry.

What Is HR in the Higher Education Industry?

Higher education refers to education beyond high school. This can be a college, university, trade school, or any additional education after school. HR in higher education plays a similar role as in other industries by recruiting, retaining, and developing talent, but their focus is geared towards students and instructors who are teaching those students.

Why Is HR in the Higher Education Industry Important?

HR is important in any industry, including the higher education industry. Working in the higher education industry can be difficult, as it requires staying up to date with the constant changes in education. A majority of your workforce are teachers and supporting staff, so it is important to stay aware of educational changes and the needs of your workforce. Here are some specific reasons why HR in the higher education industry is important.
  • Communication. Communication is key when handling most HR issues, including in higher education. Communication takes time, but it is important that your staff, campus and students are aware of policy updates, process changes or new protocols. Without proper communication from HR, many of these changes will not be implemented and can lead to the organization being liable to lawsuits.
  • Legal Issues. It is important for HR to stay up to date on laws and regulations. Universities, specifically large or well-known ones, are more likely to be targeted in legal issues. Therefore it is important for HR to stay informed to help the organization avoid any potential legal situations.
  • Organization. Having HR in place at a higher education institution helps keep it organized. It helps the workforce understand the hierarchy and what role each employee and department plays. HR also helps alleviate potential issues between departments by having an organization chart in place. This prevents issues if employees or students are unsure who to go to about something, or if they are unsure who is the manager of that department. This might seem like something employees or students should simply know, but if the time and resources aren’t put into proper organization, issues will occur.

Specific Challenges of HR in the Higher Education Industry

Every industry has its own HR challenges every day. The higher education industry is no different. It is important to recognize those challenges so that you can face them. Here are some challenges that exist for HR in the higher education industry.

Lack of Funding

Most higher education organizations are funded by the government. This has historically made the higher education industry more stable. However, funding for higher education has started to take a hit in recent years. Recent studies show that between 2020 and 2021, most state funding for higher education dropped by an average of 6%. These cuts make it harder for HR to recruit and retain talent. It also makes it harder to hire employees for your HR team, which can lead to HR employees being stretched too thinly and getting burned out.

Employee Turnover

Employee retention is something every organization worries about, especially since the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and the “Great Resignation” beginning in 2021. The higher education industry already experienced a high turnover rate, with positions such as academic advisor or student counselor being employed for 3 years on average prior to Covid-19. That turnover rate has increased even more recently. A recent study found that 57.2% of higher education workers are likely to leave their job in the next 12 months. This higher turnover rate means HR teams need to recruit, retain and develop constantly changing talent.

Employee Burnout

Employee burnout due to all the changes in recent years (remote work, social distancing, vaccine requirements) has meant higher education organizations need to invest more into wellness programs for their employees. It’s also put more of an emphasis on mental health and HR teams being aware of employees’ mental health needs. Mental health can be tough to navigate in the workplace, as it needs to be treated in confidentiality even though it can have an effect on others in the workplace.

Trends in HR in the Higher Education Industry

There are always changes occurring in HR. The key is to be prepared for those changes and know how to react when they occur. In addition, HR plays a role in staying up to date with trends in the workplace and in their industry. Here are some trends to be aware of for HR in higher education.

Social Media Presence

Social media is everywhere. It doesn’t matter where you look or where you go for information, social media seems to play a part. Social media is even more important for the rising generation, Gen Z, which relies on social media for information. Because of this, it’s important for higher education organizations to have a social media presence. Much of a company’s recruiting and brand is based on their social media presence. In fact, 47% of recruiters say that social media helps with their employer brand. Since most students at higher education organizations are part of Gen Z, HR’s ability to use social media to recruit and attract employees and students plays a key role in the organization’s long-term sustainability.

Digital Learning

Since the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, online learning has become more important. The change in the way teachers teach and students learn impacts the resources needed for success. This means recruiting teams at higher education organizations need to consider employees’ ability to communicate digitally with students or other employees. Also, organizations have needed to change their approach to implementing culture and providing training. Technology plays a much bigger part than it did pre Covid-19.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)

DEI is a role that has become more and more common in companies in recent years, including in the higher education industry. According to one study, only one-fifth of professors in the U.S. are people of color (POC). This goes even further with students. According to another study, diversity is important to 84% of students and 81% of employees. It is important for HR to recognize the desire of employees and students for more diversity. HR plays a role in diversity by the culture it instills and the employees it hires. If a higher education organization chooses to hire a DEI role, that DEI role would be part of the HR team.

Role of HR in the Higher Education Industry

HR is the pulse of a company and plays a key role in a company’s culture. While a higher education organization might not be viewed as a typical company in the traditional sense, it still employs employees and seeks to instill a culture that is inviting and welcoming. Here are some of the important roles HR plays in the higher education industry.
  • Recruit and retain talent. Recruiting and retaining talent is the battle every company faces. As a higher education organization, you receive funding largely due to the students you attract. Students will not want to come to a college without the best teachers or programs. It is HR’s responsibility to recruit and retain those teachers or administrators who run those programs. Without recruiting and retaining the best talent, higher education organizations will struggle to attract students, which can lead to receiving lesser funds.
  • Develop talent. Another key role HR plays in the higher education industry is developing the talent at the organization. This plays a big role in retaining talent after recruitment. Talent development can come through offering training, professional advancement, collaborating with other departments, or providing opportunities to further education at the organization.
  • Promote an inclusive environment on campus. One way that HR at higher education organizations are unique compared to other industries is that they play a role in creating an inclusive culture for students. This extra emphasis on culture allows HR to have a larger impact than they would have in another industry. When HR in higher education makes decisions on how the organization runs and makes process changes, they have to consider how the change will affect the students and culture on campus.
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Tanner Pierce, PHR

Tanner Pierce, PHR

Tanner has over 4 years of HR professional experience in various fields of HR. He has experience in hiring, recruiting, employment law, unemployment, onboarding, outboarding, and training to name a few. Most of his experience comes from working in the Professional Employer and Staffing Industries. He has a passion for putting people in the best position to succeed and really tries to understand the different backgrounds people come from.
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