Welcome Spring! Springtime on campus means Spring Break for many colleges and universities. Students and faculty have a few days of freedom from the daily classroom routine and a much-welcomed time to catch their breath. Yet, for many higher education administrators and leaders, Springtime doesn’t mean Spring Break, instead, it means Budget Time as we prepare the budgets for the next academic fiscal year.
Budgeting is challenging under conventional circumstances. Typically, the institutional and departmental budgets are based on expected and reliable data sources that provide analytics for the budget cycle and are consistent with past trends and methodology. But this year, online leaders in higher education face the added realities of pandemic fatigue, uncertain enrollment, shrinking funding sources, and increasing demands for online and digital courses, products, and services. Operating budgets at many institutions of higher education may decrease in the coming year due to a reallocation of resources to safety, health, and human resources.
Professional development frequently suffers when institutional budgets tighten. There is often a temptation, and sometimes even a mandate, to cut professional growth opportunities. I argue that now is not the time to cut back on professional development, but rather it is the perfect time for institutions and online learning units to invest in their most important assets, our people.
Over the past year, online educators have worked tirelessly to enable their institutions to pivot to emergency remote and online learning to ensure that students can continue their academic pursuits. During long hours, emergency planning meetings, brainstorming sessions to find creative solutions to tricky problems, and late-night support consultations with colleges, faculty, and students, I witnessed something amazing. Our teams rose to the challenge. They got the job done, programs and courses were moved online, and leaders emerged within our ranks. I was truly inspired. For many of our team members, the leadership spark ignited. As a senior leader, it is my job to ensure that flame is tended.
In my role, one of my primary strategy responsibilities is to cultivate future leaders. This includes not only coaching and mentoring team members, it also means support for their career goals and investing in their professional development. During this budgeting cycle, I will continue to budget for professional development for the members of my team. This year, like many previous years at several different institutions where I have served, I recommended emerging leaders and high-potential staff to participate in the Online Learning Consortium’s Institute for Emerging Leadership in Online Learning (IELOL). I found this to be a worth-while investment. It not only is a great development opportunity for the participant, it also reaps benefits for the organization. According to my colleague Daniel Metz, Associate Dean for Liberal Arts and Communications at CCCOnline (IELOL Alumni 2017)
The IELOL program was engaging, informative, and enjoyable. It was a great opportunity to interact and work closely with leaders and emerging leaders from a variety of backgrounds and contexts. The program was especially effective in its structure, including pre-immersion activities that help one prepare thoughtfully and build community, the main immersion experience, which includes a variety of compelling learning activities, and an opportunity for post-immersion application of what was learned. A lasting benefit was developing strategies to reframe challenges in online learning from a nimble, collaborative, leadership perspective. The program inspires one to continue to grow as a leader and to bring ideas and goals to practical fruition in day-to-day operations.
This year, I too have the privilege to be able to invest my time and energy in my professional development while I serve as an IELOL 2021-2022 faculty member. I will get to learn alongside participant learners in the new HyFlex format for the Immersion experience.
Tina Parscal currently serves as the Associate Vice Chancellor for CCCOnline and Academic Affairs for the Colorado Community College System. Parscal has held leadership roles in online and academic affairs at institutions and systems of higher education ranging from community colleges to doctoral-granting institutions.