HR Insights 6 min

5 Significant HR Trends in Higher Education

August 6, 2021

Attracting and retaining top talent should be a primary concern for organizations in every industry, but especially in higher education institutions. The impact a competent and happy faculty has on the student experience is exactly the same as how high-caliber employees and their experience with a company feed into customer satisfaction. And your institution’s reputation, and thereby its success, depends on how your students, alumni, and faculty feel (and talk) about it.

Here are five significant HR trends that institutions are currently adopting in higher education to attract and keep talent. Look to these trending initiatives as you develop new recruitment and retention strategies:

  1. Hiring a Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO)
  2. Elevating professional development for faculty and staff
  3. Establishing an online brand
  4. Becoming a leader in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)
  5. Investing in a human resources information system (HRIS)

1. Hiring a Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO)

The CHRO, or head of HR, often reports directly to the dean. They are responsible for spearheading all strategic aspects of HR, including:

  • Employer brand building
  • Initiatives that attract and retain high-quality staff and educators
  • Employee communication and management
  • Compliance regulation

In August 2020, Kevin McClure, an associate professor of higher education at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, expressed his certainty in the idea that higher education institutions would see an unprecedented level of burnout among staff, faculty, and students as classes commenced during the pandemic. “The more important question,” he wrote, “is how college leaders will address it.”

Failing to address burnout, McClure predicted, would lead to institutions losing talent—not only during the pandemic, but even after conditions settled. This is especially true for entry-level positions in student affairs, where demoralization is often enough to convince someone to change careers. Hiring a CHRO in higher education puts someone at the helm of staffing issues as they innovate incentives that improve retention, bolster recruitment efforts at large, and streamline hiring.

How to Do It

The CHRO you want for your organization will have ample experience leading HR staff and will understand the strategies required to build an impactful initiative.

Already have a CHRO? Think about how you’re currently leveraging the position. Could you optimize the role to better suit your institution’s values and goals?

Here are a few checklist items your CHRO can focus on:

  • Establishing specialized HR departments within colleges. For example, a college of humanities holds different objectives than a college of sciences. Encouraging your CHRO to build HR departments for each division can help your institution proactively offer support to your faculty, staff, and students.
  • Building a long-term vision that safeguards the viability of your institution. The right CHRO will understand how various pieces of an institution should fit together to create a roadmap to success. Finding someone who can build an institution rooted in longevity is key.

2. Elevating Professional Development for Faculty and Staff

Ironically, universities rank in the bottom quartile for providing learning and development opportunities for their staff compared to other industries. Not only do these seats of education lack mentorship programs, but they also don’t offer enough growth encouragement. Specifically, the Gallup survey cited above discovered that fewer than four out of ten higher-ed staff and faculty strongly agree that someone at work encouraged their development in the past six months or that they’ve had opportunities at work to learn and grow, compared to seven in ten employees in organizations outside of higher ed.

Fortunately, the world of higher education is waking up to the importance of ongoing development for faculty and staff. You can do the same and improve retention by showing your staff the value you place not only on their professional development, but also on what they bring to your institution.

How to Do It

What can you do to offer useful learning and growth opportunities to your faculty and staff? Here are two ways to start:

  • Conduct quarterly or monthly evaluations. Although evaluations are commonplace in corporate work environments, higher education lags behind in this area. Lead the charge to incorporate regular evaluations (monthly or quarterly) for staff and faculty at all levels. You’ll need to set up appropriate adjustments for tenured professors who should be critiqued differently than other education professionals.
  • Offer development programs. 71 percent of higher-education professionals believe access to professional development opportunities and mentorship would increase their likelihood of staying at their current institution. Provide learning opportunities that are attractive to faculty and staff, not just students. For example, if a faculty member specializes in gerontology, you could find community-building programs that give them the chance to work regularly with the aging population. This gives them the opportunity to see their research borne out in practice and to bridge the town-gown divide.
BambooHR® Performance Management lays the groundwork for professional development conversations. 

3. Establishing Your Online Brand

Conveying your institution’s prestige requires crafting a meaningful story and communicating it to potential hires. In today’s digital age, where nearly 80 percent of job seekers go online to find their next placement, you need to establish your online brand.

To that end, universities looking for top talent are focusing on creating a robust online presence. This also helps expand your hiring network and draws candidates from pools you aren’t reaching through your in-person or print communications.

How to Do It

Work with your marketing team to:

  • Create high-quality content. By providing insightful articles, infographics, and videos that illuminate your institution’s core values, you can foster meaningful connections with prospective faculty and staff. High-quality content builds trust and generates three times more leads than traditional marketing tactics.
  • Bolster your social media presence. In addition to posting job openings on your career site, broadcast them on platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. Don’t shy away from utilizing specific social tools either—for example, Dartmouth ran an Instagram story that showed students how to select their pronouns and gender identity. A campaign like this can be a great way to highlight meaningful initiatives, which can give job seekers a reason to pursue your institution over another.
  • Streamline your core values and brand across all platforms. Job seekers often go through multiple touchpoints to determine whether an institution is right for them. To avoid giving them conflicting information, make sure your messaging is consistent across your site pages, social platforms, and marketing assets.

4. Becoming a Leader in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Recent college admissions scandals have spurred conversations about inequality and privilege across institutions. Moreover, people of color (POC) make up roughly only one-fifth of professors. POC are also under-represented among academic staff and administrators. By contrast, nearly half of undergraduates are POC.

A university’s commitment (or lack of) to DEI will have an impact on whether or not prospective staff will choose to work or stay there. Don’t let the social and political issues that silently pervade your campus go unresolved. Identify them now and roll out initiatives to fix them. The sooner you act, the more you can do to build a safe and attractive environment for faculty, staff, and students.

How to Do It

Here are a few initiatives your CHRO can push forward::

  • Create a diversity and inclusion committee. Start by hiring a chief diversity officer (CDO). This is someone who holds considerable experience promoting policies, behaviors, and attitudes that foster inclusion and diversity. They should understand the complexities that surround issues of gender, sexual orientation, and race and use this expertise to select the right individuals for a committee.
  • Initiate regular conversations on campus among staff and departments. Encourage your faculty to speak up about their experiences with diversity and inclusion on campus. Your CDO can oversee and lead these conversations. Promoting this kind of dialogue can help your team feel safe and comfortable, enabling you to find ways to tear down the roadblocks that may be inhibiting the institution from moving into a more inclusive environment.
  • Recruit educators of color. Students believe it’s important to see themselves reflected in the faculty and curriculum. HR teams should aim to start the teacher pipeline early and recruit more diversely. Since inadequate preparation is one of the main barriers to recruiting and retaining educators of color, this area must be addressed. Institutions can partner with teaching preparation programs that offer mentoring and job placement services to future educators of color. These programs allow your team to garner valuable connections that can pave the way for a more diverse and inclusive future.

5. Investing in an HR Software System

The right HR software propels your CHRO’s initiatives not only by digitizing and simplifying menial HR tasks, but by putting time-saving and strategic tools into the hands of recruiters—those tasked with finding and empowering the staff and educators who will transform your university for the better. In short, HR software assists CHROs in staying ahead of competing institutions.

How to Do It

Using a reliable HR software system can help your HR teams:

  • Make data-driven decisions. Metrics are your best friend. HR software can help you track data on your candidates and employees so you can identify what is and isn’t working and make necessary adjustments.
  • Automate repetitive tasks. There’s a lot of paperwork that goes into HR, and especially hiring. An applicant tracking system (ATS) helps you easily post openings for school employees, digitize necessary paperwork, request e-signatures, and streamline the hiring process overall.
  • Save time. With less paper pushing and filing, you can provide a high-quality recruitment and hiring experience with time to spare. Devote hours saved to high-level strategy you simply wouldn’t have had the time for without software designed especially for HR.

Free Up Time with Secure HR Software

Keeping up with today’s higher education trends requires more than good intentions and a will to persevere. It requires time, which is a hard commodity to come by in HR. As HR admins in higher education take on the colossal task of addressing burnout in the industry, turning to trusted HR software to organize and simplify tasks is step one in preserving precious hours that can be spent on what matters most—your people.

BambooHR takes critical HR tasks to school.
Save time for strategy with a single secure database, onboarding task automation, and countless other A-grade features!
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Rebekah Cuevas

Rebekah Cuevas is obsessed with empowering the “human” in human resources. As a next-gen, Latinx, and LGBTQ+ author and editor with over a decade of B2C, B2B, and creative writing experience, she connects HR pros to impactful HR solutions through research-driven narrative with a special interest in promoting DEI initiatives that build stronger, safer, and more profitable workplaces for all.