Best Practices for Working in Higher Education Administration

No wonder university employees are often attracted to administrative positions — it is a privileged position, where you are allowed to have a say in most decisions that affect the whole higher education cosmos. Administrators have a lot on their hands, and due to a number of factors there is a great demand across the country for professionals to fill these positions.


In response to this demand, professionals can pursue advanced in education in programs like the online Master of Arts (M.A.) in Educational Leadership with a concentration in Higher Education from Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU).


Graduates aspiring to become postsecondary education administrators have a variety of career opportunities. With a median salary of $96,910 per year (according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics), many educational leaders are considering a career shift. The jump to an administrative role can be quite exciting.


Modernization in Higher Education Administration

Some of the biggest challenges these professionals face include dealing with faculty and staff’s problems and concerns, constantly working to keep the university’s missions and goals in check and implementing changes — particularly regarding modernization.


As McKinsey & Company points out, “When colleges and universities think about building academic enterprises for the 21st century, they often overlook one of the most critical aspects: the back-office structures needed to run complex organizations. By failing to modernize and streamline administrative functions (including HR, finance, and facilities), universities put themselves at a serious disadvantage, making it harder to fulfill their academic missions.”


We often talk about how the pandemic showed we need to re-evaluate our relationship with technology in education, but modernization doesn’t stop there.


Embrace Collaboration and Perspectives

The top priority in every higher education administrator’s best practices list is to use factual data to redesign programs. Unfortunately, a grave mistake many university employees make is coming up with an idea (or program) before analyzing the actual needs of the student body, faculty and staff. This approach often leads to wasted time, money and resources.


McKinsey & Company, citing an anonymous example of administrators ignoring such needs, notes that once “[t]he leadership realized that instead of once again creating a solution they would then impose on a diverse system, they had to understand the problems from the point of view of the various stakeholders and then design targeted fixes. With that fundamentally different perspective, the change team created a carefully thought out road map and began the hard work of redesigning systems and processes.” These administrators achieved this outcome by talking to faculty and staff directly and listening to their perspectives on the issues. The authors conclude that working side-by-side as collaborators is one of the keys to success.


The Importance of Acknowledgement

Of course, this also includes showing appreciation for your employees’ work, having regular communication and boosting faculty morale. These items are suggested by Stella Erbes, who shares tactics for success with the readers of Inside Higher Ed. Erbes also highlights the importance of what she calls “developing your own orientation” — in other words, creating your own manual as a new administrator – which includes learning as much as possible through books, talks with senior administrators and attending budget training.


The good news is that no one has to build their practice alone. Programs such as FGCU’s online M.A. in Educational Leadership with a concentration in Higher Education program prepare graduates with skills in advising, student affairs, career services, curriculum development and more.


Another essential and current good practice is to be serious and committed to diversity and equity. To quote Deloitte, “In higher education, an increasingly diverse student body – the ‘consumers’ of education – has made clear its desire to see this same level of multi-dimensional diversity of background reflected in the faculty and staff on campus.” For administrators, this means being aware of not only talent acquisition and diversity amongst new hires but also creating a culture on campus of bias training and challenging discussions.


These practices are essential to bringing any institution into the 21st century — without them, no amount of new laptops or applications will successfully modernize a university.


Learn more about Florida Gulf Coast University’s online M.A. in Educational Leadership with a concentration in Higher Education program.

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