The last two years have been pivotal for most industries. Nothing in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic has remained untouched. This goes for education and is the case for thousands of institutions nationwide, including FIU.
It is a reality that hits close to home for M.S. in Higher Education Administration Professor Adam Duran-Leftin of the College of Arts, Sciences & Education who is working hard to connect students to careers with impact. His students will lead future initiatives at universities or colleges and the landscape has changed, he notes.
“It’s a revolution in higher education right now,” says Duran-Leftin, a graduate program director of the online M.S. in Higher Education Administration program. “There are always evolutions in higher education that have occurred to keep it relevant, and it’s no different now with COVID.”
While institutions follow a natural progression with social, cultural and political shifts, adding programs and serving their populations, one of the greatest needs right now in higher education organizations is innovators. Duran-Leftin sees the changes as essential and notes that they force creativity and build value. With this understanding, FIU’s program offers new courses in crisis management in higher education and organization and administration of student affairs.
“Higher education connects a lot of things—we are in a place to train people for the jobs of the future,” Duran-Leftin says.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in higher education administration are expected to grow rapidly with about 14,500 nationwide openings each year. These newly hired administrators will face a wide range of issues that have moved to the forefront in the last 18 months such as funding, the return on investment (ROI) for students, student and employee well-being including mental health and isolation, flexibility and crisis management.
A sizable number of learners are choosing to pursue their master’s degrees. Many of these students are returning to school 100 percent online to upskill or reskill. Fueled in part by a COVID-19 weakened economy, societal shifts in sentiment regarding priorities, and professional burnout, the surge is composed of non-traditional students, who need flexibility for work or family obligations. These students have different needs in terms of resources and management; however, all want the highest ROI.
One of Duran-Leftin’s areas of focus is to create frameworks for higher education administrators to provide students with the greatest ROI. Students need to see the applicability of their degrees in the real world, he explains and discusses the ways that many departments are adapting to make these connections.
“How are we making the value apparent from admissions to graduation and career placement?” asks Duran-Leftin. “We need to provide bridges, such as with online learning and engaging pedagogy.”
Other topics that institutions are addressing include bandwidth and access to technology. Duran-Leftin says that because of budgetary constraints, future leaders in higher education administration will have to be well-steeped in budgeting and finance. More crucially, they will also need the adaptability to handle crises such as natural disasters, incidents on campus, health of students and programs that fit the needs of students from testing to holistic reviews of applications.
“In the meantime, we keep evolving. We constantly have to have a holistic review of what we’re offering students,” states Duran-Leftin, who stresses that we’re living during one of the most critical times in higher education administration—a time that indeed needs innovators.