HRM in the Business Context of Colleges and Universities, Essay Example
Human resources management in the context of colleges and universities may be among the most challenging HRM environments in either the public or private sectors. Universities and colleges intersect with society across every imaginable line. Besides the social implications of hundreds or even thousands of different people all interacting on a daily basis, institutions of higher learning face political and economic challenges that the private sector does not have to consider. The following paper will consider several key issues the impact HRM in the context of colleges and universities: strategy and planning, markets and competition, and political and social activism and their effects on HRM. The COVID-19 pandemic also has significant implications for colleges and universities generally, and HRM specifically. The analysis in this paper incorporates several standard tools (such as PESTLE and SWOT) to provide context as well as research into the key issues addressed herein.
Background and Overview
In the broadest sense, colleges and universities face similar challenges to organizations in any sector. The four overarching issues these institutions must address are budgeting, recruiting, leadership and succession planning, and technology (Anyangwe, 2018). Human resource departments sit at the nexus of all of these issues: They are involved with every aspect of budgeting, from salaries and wages for staff and faculty to recruiting and training, leadership development, and the incorporation of new technology into HRM systems and for deployment as part of the provision of education and training to students. In order to drill down deeper into these broad areas, it is helpful to apply analytical tools and highlight what they reveal.
The most notable takeaway from the application of various analytical tools is that individual factors, such as political, economic, and legislative segments, intersect with each other in ways that may be unique to institutions of higher learning. It is impossible, for example, to separate political, economic, and legislative issues where universities are concerned; politics drive legislation, and legislation drives some or even most of the economics of universities (Hanover Research, 2014). Colleges and universities often rely on government spending via legislation as a significant portion of their funding, and shifting political winds can have significant impact on a university’s budget from one election season to the next (Hall & Wealle, 2019). Even private schools rely on favorable legislation, grants, and scholarships to keep the economic engine running (Pucciarelli & Kaplan, 2016). This can present enormous challenges for HRM where long term planning (such as for organizational strategy or for leadership succession) is tied to potential short-term changes.
The news is not all bad for schools, of course, and some of the weaknesses and threats that colleges and universities face are balanced out by strengths and opportunities, particularly those brought on by advances in technology. One of the greatest strengths for today’s institutions of higher learning are advancements in technology that make it easier than ever for students to access information, and for educators to interact with students in remote learning settings (Hubler, 2020). Although COVID-19 will be addressed in more detail in a subsequent section, it is worth noting the ways that the pandemic has jumpstarted the adoption of video conferencing technology among a broad segment of the public (Hubler, 2020). The rapid adoption of technology also poses potential risks, and it will be necessary for schools to ensure that instructional content keeps up with the advancements. The biggest threat virtually all schools face is balancing rising costs against budget cuts (Hubler, 2020), but the effective leverage of technology may make it possible to reduce material costs of operating physical campuses.
Strategy and Planning
Like most organizations, HRM intersects with long-term organizational strategy and planning in very fundamental ways. Long-term planning requires leadership and staff, for example, with HRM central to those needs. Every organization has to think about issues such as succession planning and leadership development, and schools are no different. In fact, issues related to leadership development and succession planning may have more significant implications at colleges and universities than in some organizations, because of the nature of the organization itself. Manufacturing businesses, for example, turn out products as the end result of their operational cycle. Schools, on the other hand, hopefully turn out successful graduates, but the graduates are not the product a school offers: the education is the product. Any long term planning for a college or university is, by its nature, driven by HRM functions and choices, and issues such as succession and leadership development take on new significance in the context of higher education.
It is critically important for every organization the HRM aligns with institutional goals (Pucciarelli & Kaplan, 2016). Because so much of the organizational value in colleges and institutions is in human capital, the need to align HRM with organizational goals is a foundational function of such organizations. For example, if a school has as its goal a 10% growth in student population over the coming five years, HRM must understand the human resource assets and costs involved in meeting the demands of such student growth. In any organization, succession planning and leadership development require HRM to understand issues such as upcoming retirements, incoming talent and how it will be incorporated into the organization, and building and maintaining a long-term, big-picture view of the organization and its people (Collins & Collins, 2007). This big-picture view is underpinned by many small snapshots of various departments and an understanding of how those departments communicate and intersect with each other across the organization (“HR in Higher Education,” 2020,. HRM must understand the current value of the organization’s human assets, and be directly involved in the long-term planning for maintaining and building on those assets. In ways that are somewhat unique to institutions of higher education, HRM can and must take a leadership role.
As technology continues to play a growing role in the function of educational institutions, HR departments and leaders must embrace it. Like some of the other issues discussed in this paper, this applies generally to all organizations, and perhaps most specifically to educational institutions. Human resources departments at colleges and universities already tend to be underfunded as compared to their private sector counterparts by as much as 75% (Brown et al.,2017). Because the long term success of an educational organization is so firmly embedded in the success of the HR Department, it is necessary for HR to adopt a forward looking view of technology. Many of the functions of HR processes can be automated with the application of the right technology, and adopting automation technology may be one of the best ways for budget strapped HR departments to stay on course and continue to serve their organizations’ long term strategies (Tobenkin, 2019).
Competition and Marketing
In previous generations, education was often thought of as a public good, and many of the same rules for competition did not apply in this area of the public sector the way they did in private sector. That view of education has evolved considerably in recent decades, and colleges and universities compete with each other in ways that would have been unthinkable in previous generations (Anyangwe, 2018). While a detailed examination of such competition is beyond the scope of this limited discussion, it is worth noting that there are two key ways that schools compete where human capital is concerned: they compete with each other to attract the best and brightest students, and they compete with each other to attract the top talent to serve as faculty and staff (Musselin, 2018). While HRM departments in colleges and universities are less directly involved with attracting students than they are with attracting talent, their central role in organizational functions, both short- and long-term, makes them vital to organizational success.
With this context in mind, the most notable issue related to competition and marketing for institutions of higher education is simply that it exists and is growing exponentially. Many schools are hiring marketing professionals and organizations away from the private sector and applying their skills and knowledge to issues such as raising the profile of the school, and attracting top students and top teaching talent (Musselin, 2018). This competition is particularly noticeable in the digital realm, as advances in technology (such as mobile communication and online-course platforms) have opened up a whole new sector for competition (Musselin, 2018). Moreover, the digital space is in many ways a more level playing field, and success often comes to those who are better at leveraging the new technology rather than accruing solely to legacy institutions or other high-profile schools (Musselin, 2018). The right ad campaign or marketing strategy can bring in new students and new money to a school; conversely, schools that operate successfully in this arena may have greater leverage to attract top talent for faculty and administrative staff (Hall & Wealle, 2019). As with most other aspects of the organizational function of colleges and universities, one area affects the next: bringing in students brings in money, and bringing in money brings in talent (or at least has the potential to do so).
This dynamic between attracting students and attracting faculty intersects with HRM in several key ways. Organizations have finite budgets; a dollar spent on a marketing campaign maybe a dollar that is unavailable to pay staff. This sets up the potential for an internal competition within the organization. HRM professionals must have a clear idea of the organizational needs where human capital is concerned, and must also have a clear idea about what it costs to attract and retain top talent (Pucciarelli & Kaplan, 2016). This is where HRM leadership comes into play, as it is the responsibility of HRM professionals to work with administrative leaders on budgeting issues. HRM professionals must often draw firm lines where budget requirements are concerned, and they must be willing and prepared to address higher ups within the organization to make the case for salaries and other budget requirements needed for recruitment and retention. If leadership at School A is making a decision between spending money on a marketing campaign or spending money on raises for current staff, the only thing standing up for the faculty in that decision are the HRM professionals whose role it is to effectively manage the organization’s human assets.
Political and Social Activism Issues
On a broad scale, colleges and universities have to navigate a potential minefield of written and unwritten rules and regulations shaping how they respond to political and social activism and issues. Publicly funded schools, in particular, are typically bound by legislation barring them from discrimination in making enrollment decisions, just as they are bound by similar rules and guidelines for hiring decisions (Collins & Kritsonis, 2006). Private institutions, specifically those associated with churches and religious organizations, often push back against anti-discrimination rules, professing their right to make decisions about enrollment and hiring based on religious beliefs and preferences (Collins & Kritsonis, 2006). This can and does have implications for HRM at both public and private institutions.
In recent years, diversity in hiring has been a mantra for most organizations; even those who do not yet fully embrace diversity are beginning to understand its value (Collins & Kritsonis, 2006). While the term “diversity” is fairly broad, it also serves as a good umbrella term for the purposes of this discussion; if there is one broad political or social issue impacting HRM both directly and indirectly, it is diversity. A 2006 study that considered the implications of diversity for colleges and universities noted that the demographics of the student body were changing and becoming more diverse at a rate that far outpaced the diversity of most school faculties (Collins & Kritsonis, 2006). In recent years, that gap has closed somewhat, as colleges and universities take diversity more seriously than they had in the past (“Growing competition between universities is changing student life,” 2017).
One example of this changing outlook in institutions of higher learning is the advent of chief diversity officers. The people who fill these roles take on the responsibility of assessing an organizations diversity efforts and making recommendations for improvements (“New chief diversity and inclusion officer,” 2020). These positions are also found in the private sector, of course, but they arguably play a more significant role in the context of colleges and universities, because chief diversity officers address issues both related to staffing and to student recruitment and retention (“New chief diversity and inclusion officer,” 2020). Diversity officers assess the demographic diversity of faculty and student body, to ensure that minorities and members of other underserved communities are treated fairly and equitably, and promote the advancement of diversity on campus (Wood, 2019). A report from 2016 notes that nearly 100 colleges and universities in the United States had hired chief diversity officers in the previous 18 months, and that the trend was only growing (Frum, 2016). While there are a whole range of different political and social issues that impact colleges and universities in the broad sense, the issue of diversity is the one that is most central to the functions of HRM.
COVID-19 and HRM
In May 2020, the U. S. Office of Personnel Management Issued a series of guidelines and FAQ’s for all public institutions that address key issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The unusual nature of the pandemic has meant that HRM departments are having to adapt to changing conditions and expectations. Some of the issues HRM departments in public organizations must navigate include sick leave and time off, payments during evacuations and quarantines, workplace precautions to prevent COVID-19 exposure, and workers compensation programs related to COVID-19. Because virtually every educational system that remained open throughout the pandemic has had to adopt some form of remote communications and distance learning, this has also meant hiring or contracting with experts and coordinating the deployment remote learning systems, particularly in terms of coordinating scheduling and access for faculty. As with most organizations, COVID-19 has placed HRM in the central role, responsible for coordinating individuals and departments across the span of the organization. The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic has meant that colleges and universities have had to bring in new staff and contractors, coordinate training for existing staff and faculty, and manage the particular guidelines for scheduling, sick leave, and related issues as they pertain to COVID-19.
If there are two lessons to be learned in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, they are that the unexpected is always just around the corner, and technology is central to addressing both the expected and the unexpected for HRM departments at colleges and universities. Considering the budget challenges that most schools face, any technology that can be leveraged to reduce costs is likely a good investment. Moreover, remote learning and communications technology are in many ways supplanting the physical campus of previous generations. This does not mean that when the pandemic is over students will not return to campuses; at the same time, however the migration to distance learning will continue, and will at some point outpace campus education. The schools that are best positioned to meet their technological needs in the coming years will be the ones that have an HRM Department that understands and embraces the critical role the technology plays today, and will continue to play tomorrow.
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