December 3, 2023

In my last blog, Creating an Environment for Success, I shared strategies enrollment leaders should use to effectively manage their teams while meeting the challenges of declining enrollment. As staffing and talent issues continue to plague colleges and universities across the country, I wanted to revisit this topic.

Things will only get more challenging. Why? Because while we’ve all been talking about the student “demographic cliff,” less has been said about the associated employment cliff. Many industries are already struggling with this labor shortage (think of every “supply chain shortage” story you’ve read about in the last year or so). It is only a matter of time before the higher education sector begins to feel the pinch of too few or too few qualified, prepared and capable candidates for open positions.

Cross-training employees in a campus conference room
Cross-training staff not only solves job shortages, but changes the way the team works with students and other staff.

The need for holistic training for enrollment

This makes cross-training of enrolled staff across student types, levels and modalities more important than ever. Several specialized units (graduate, undergraduate, online, accelerated, adult, etc.) will have to give way to holistically trained staff who can work across forces to achieve institutional goals. From a human resource perspective, this is the only sustainable way forward as we face the consequences of fewer graduates from our institutions.

Authentic onboarding, training and continuous professional development are also critical to retaining talent, especially as we have fewer approved positions and fewer people interested in (or qualified for) those positions. These limits will require staff who can “wear multiple hats”. Cross training and succession planning are no longer ideal practices, but an absolute necessity. They’re also tools you can use to keep your employees engaged and excited about their work.

The transformative power of cross training for enrollment

Cross-training teams also transform the structure of the institution and bring valuable new knowledge to work with students and families. Here are some real examples:

  • Admissions counselor in contact with a first-year student who expresses interest in becoming a future transfer student. If this admissions counselor only understands the experiences and requirements of FTFT students, the institution has lost an opportunity to build a relationship as well as effectively advise the aspiring student.
  • A prospect is assigned to an online program recruitment who ended up choosing the wrong option by mistake and is actually interested in studying in a classroom.. If this person’s goal is to recruit for an online program, they may try to convert the prospect to an online program.
  • An admissions counselor engages with a family regarding their son’s upcoming college experience. The parent suggests that she always wanted to finish her studies on her own. If the counselor is prepared to speak with both the parent and the child, institutions could enroll two students — not one.

3 practical tips for employees enrolling in cross-training

Take it a step further and consider all areas of intersectionality: can your admissions staff speak confidently about the requirements of your graduate programs? Do your frontline recruiters understand the systems and reports that drive application review and transcript evaluation?

Here are some additional recommendations for practical ways to incorporate cross-training in your organization:

1. Prioritize

It should be recognized that cross-training requires a commitment to invest the necessary time and resources, as well as accepting the fact that these activities will detract from other priorities in the short term. For this reason, management must accept the temporary impact on productivity as a trade-off for a more sophisticated operation in the long run. Leaders must frame these conversations in this light when speaking with campus constituents and other institutional stakeholders.

2. Operationalize

Cross training is time-consuming, so it’s important to incorporate it into your regular processes to ensure it’s not a one-off event. For example, you could use job shadowing as part of an annual employee review, or set aside an hour a week for employees to be trained in other departments (ask an admissions counselor to help start a financial aid school rush, or support staff at recruiting events are simple examples). Additionally, options that have worked well for our partners are including a cross-training component in the onboarding process for all new employees and creating a regular training schedule for all employees that actively engages support units as both trainers and trainees.

3. Provide opportunities for feedback

Distribute pre- and post-training surveys to employees to measure their baseline knowledge and assess learning outcomes after training. Your team will also appreciate having input into the training process and becoming more involved in the activity. Pre- and post-surveys also allow for quick content adjustments. If you focus on cross-training topics that rarely prove useful in their everyday conversations, the activity loses validity and impact.

Cross-training staff is critical to your institutional success and service to your students

Cross-training takes time, but as we continue to do more with less, it is a vital part of institutional success and holistic service to students. The time taken to engage in cross-training should be seen as a hedge against single points of failure and organizational waste due to over-specialization.

At the RNL National Conference this summer, I will lead a panel discussion of institutional leaders currently working on these issues. Register today for this best-in-class national and marketing conference and dive into a series of sessions on traditional undergraduate enrollment, online and graduate enrollment, student success, and much more. And my colleagues and I are also happy to discuss strategies to increase teamwork, efficiency, and ultimately the success of your institution and students. Get in touch and we will arrange a suitable time for the interview.

Let’s talk about achieving your registration goals

We can help you achieve your enrollment goals for any student population—undergraduates, graduate students, online students, adult students, and more. Contact us today for a free consultation.

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