Volume 77 | Issue 6
November 2009

Marsha Herman-Betzen

 I recently had a wonderful chat with a long-time friend from an ACUI member institution. We are close in age and have been at our respective workplaces for 25 years. We reminisced about serving together on numerous projects, brought each other up to speed on our age-
related medical conditions, and bemoaned the current state of our retirement funds. We caught up on people we now infrequently see and let our guard down enough to irreverently cut up, knowing we think each other quite amusing. The conversation became a bit sober when he shared with me that his university has had to lay off staff and he has been forced to take a one-year, 8 percent pay reduction.

This particular friend would not be considered a “warm and fuzzy” kind of student affairs guy, yet I was struck by his deep concern for his staff. He lamented the fact that 2009 travel for professional development was nonexistent, and even though the situation in 2010 had improved, it was still going to be tight. He and his associate director decided that the few dollars he did have would be used to ensure that several young staff members could attend a professional development experience. He not only wanted them to have a chance to acquire new knowledge, but also he thought it was essential for them to be exposed to the larger college union and student activities profession. “I have had so many incredible professional development experiences,” he said. “It is now vital to connect my staff and set them up to succeed.”

My friend is far from alone. In 2009, professional development was eliminated for ACUI staff, and it has a slim chance of surviving the 2010 budget. This is a bit incongruous for me since the main mission of the Association is education. And yet, I and senior administrators on campus are constantly forced to reconcile our core philosophical tenets with the reality of trying to balance a budget. How many times do we try to protect two of the largest pots of money—salaries and professional development—only to see them both take large hits in the same year?

Higher education and nonprofit associations are not alone. The corporate world is reeling as well, although they are predicted to recover from the recession at a faster pace than higher education. That said, the training industry is facing some grim challenges, with the shrinking corporate training market topping the list.

According to the Corporate Training Association website, “In 2009, training spending had its greatest decline in more than a decade.” In the same article, Workforce Management reported, “Average training expenditures per employee fell 11 percent in the past year, from $1,202 per learner in 2007 to $1,075 per learner in 2008.”

I understand that sometimes circumstances are beyond our control, but I would be remiss if I didn’t suggest that we are not very good at making the case for why cutting staff development would be short-sighted. Providing skill development now will put all of us in the driver’s seat when financial circumstances improve. Professional development should be treated like every other business venture. You must be able to articulate a return on investment.

ACUI can help you make the case for attending a professional development opportunity. We have created a webpage (available at http://www.acui.org/nyc) full of tools to help you persuade your supervisor that skill development and education has never been more essential. The tool kit contains an action planning guide to help you define your goals and customize your learning outcomes, tools to quantify the benefits of attending the annual conference, a sample report format to assist you in sharing takeaways upon returning to campus, and a customizable letter you can send to your boss emphasizing the importance and highlights of the educational curriculum. In addition, you can find information about the educational content of the annual conference later in this issue of The Bulletin.

It is not too early to start your campaign. Prepare yourself with all of the reasons professional development is a must. Instead of hacking staff development during budget shortfalls, battle to keep your professional program opportunities alive and well. Use this economic downturn as an extraordinary chance to develop your team. To keep your workforce alive and well, treat professional development as a long-term investment. Resist the pressure to be short-sighted.