COVID Providing Opportunity for Higher Education Leaders to Rise Up

By Liane M. Roth

In today’s climate, even before the current pandemic shut down schools across the nation, bringing about virtual learning models, challenges facing colleges and universities have forced those in leadership positions to address myriad changes in rapid fashion.

With a surge in competing educational opportunities, diversified student populations, shifting educational processes and declining financial resources, institutions of higher education must prepare for the future and adapt to these changes with new methods for academia.

The need for qualified, knowledgeable and talented leaders has never been greater, experts state, and those seeking management or administrative positions including directors, deans or higher positions within education institutions will be in increased demand.

Earning a Master of Science degree in Leadership in Higher Education from Pepperdine University will provide driven leaders with the necessary skills to pursue a career in relevant and emerging educational fields with strong employment growth potential and attractive salaries.

“Pepperdine University has long been a leader in guiding leaders from diverse backgrounds to successful and fulfilling careers in higher education,” said Pepperdine Dr. Jennifer Miyake-Trapp, Department Chair and the Assistant Professor of Education.

“Our strong record of encouraging students to reach their full potential combined with our history as a leader in top-ranked programs for graduate students in the field of education prepares them for the challenges of today and into the future.”

Offered in an online-hybrid format with one face-to-face weekend in Los Angeles per term, Pepperdine’s Leadership in Higher Education degree program offers robust online modules featuring engaging synchronous and asynchronous learning experiences, presentations of work at national and global conferences with faculty support and coaching. Students may also receive up to nine hours of credit toward the pursuit of a doctorate degree with Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology.

According to Scott Newman, vice president of academic affairs at the Oklahoma State University of Technology and author of Higher Education Administration: 50 Case-Based Vignettes (Information Age Publishing, 2015), successful postsecondary administrators are typically driven to help others and seek to affect meaningful change from within the educational system; and most have adopted strategies to cope with the challenges of leadership roles that seem to shift almost daily as new methodologies of academia are introduced year after year.

According to Newman, successful administrators are “connected;” nearly always plugged into local, state, national and even international issues, organizations, initiatives and information streams. This ensures they are connected to key players and knowledgeable about “major trends, opportunities and movements that are or may be acting on their colleges or universities.”

Successful education leaders need to be mentally and physically tough, according to Newman, and are typically driven to help others, seeking to effect meaningful change from within the educational system; most have adopted strategies to cope with the challenges of leadership roles that seem to shift almost daily as new methodologies of academia are introduced year after year.

Newman posits most administrators understand the institutional history of their colleges or universities and successful ones take necessary steps to “unite the institution’s diverse constituencies around a shared past.” It is important, according to Newman, that leaders “understand the immense value of being able to authentically contextualize current and envisioned organizational states of being.”

Research from Huron Consulting Group reveals leaders can position their institutions through meaningful change by building on four key dimensions of “transformation readiness.”

According to Huron, these include developing and empowering collaborative leaders who share accountability for strategic growth and manage enterprise performance more deliberately; planning differently and asking questions with both immediate, short-term and visionary long-term perspectives; operating in more connected ways through shared data and technology that enable stronger performance management; and establishing innovation centers to develop and launch offerings for new student populations, from first-generation learners to corporate employees and adults pursuing career shifts.

According to Harvard’s Heifetz & Linsky (2005), higher educational institutions face tremendous challenges to traditional methods from changing demographics to new technologies, fundamental shifts in public funding models and declining financial support, often with no clear solutions. These challenges require innovation, risk-taking and continuous learning.

Among the many challenges facing higher education, Heifetz & Linksy list finding resources to grow while trimming programs and budgets; lowering costs while improving quality; ensuring the liberal arts remain both relevant and financially sustainable; expanding into new markets without losing focus and without chasing opportunities that create mission creep; increasing public trust and support during a time of declining funding; and shifting our education models and support systems to serve a changing student demographic.

Transformation must come in tangible adjustments to address economic, political, social and technological variances that are reshaping the future of education, industry experts state. This necessitates adaptations to current management approaches, styles and configurations as leaders prepare their teams to address a bolder way to educate, inform and impact as many students as possible.

While today’s pandemic forced the closure of traditional school sites and curbed traditional learning modalities, online learning is a booming enterprise and those on the forefront of the movement will be instrumental in shaping the curve of higher education institutions. This will require dedication, training and the right tools to address what the academic models of tomorrow will be, according to industry experts.

Pursuing an MS degree in Leadership in Higher Education will give dedicated leaders the opportunity to shape the direction of colleges and universities, guide academia to greater success and diverse opportunities and create new pathways for students to learn, grow and prepare for what the future may bring.

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