The COVID-19 pandemic has hit higher education hard. Balancing fluctuating enrollment and increasing operational expenditures has been a challenge. It’s a fundamental reality: revenue streams are vital for healthy institutions.
We should not lose sight of one trait that should be an integral part of our planning: empathy.
Compassion exists in service of—not opposition to—your financial goals. When your approach is shaped by empathy, students respond with increased performance and loyalty. They know they are not just an enrollment statistic to you—they are a member of your community. Successfully weathering the pandemic and its aftershocks lies in your ability to make a robust, healthy community. If your school is to prosper, you need to balance the real and pressing urgencies of today with the long-term challenges—and opportunities—of the years ahead.
Empathy in college financial policies and practices is like elasticity. If you stretch a string on an instrument too taut, it’s more fragile and vulnerable to breaking—particularly in the event of a shock. If the string is too lax, it can’t perform its function. To tune an instrument, you have to get the tension just right to play the proper note. If your students are financially stretched to a breaking point, they will not perform well. If your college financial policies are overly loose, you cannot function.
How can you give your college financial policies the elasticity of empathy? Here are five guidelines:
1. You can’t offer solutions when you don’t know the problem. It is vital that front-line employees are having conversations with the students who enroll in your institution—as well as those who decide not to. The pandemic may require more resourcefulness in order to have those conversations. Students are not congregating in high school gyms for college fairs. You will likely need to pick up the phone to have quality dialogue with potential students as well as those who have chosen not to return to your institution. Understand the obstacles and pressures they face.