6 Growing Non-Faculty Career Paths in Higher Ed Post-COVID
When pondering what post-pandemic employment looks like in higher education, it is easy to get wrapped up in how—and if—faculty will continue delivering instruction virtually. But Zoom is only part of the story. After all, pre-pandemic, 52 percent of the more than 730,000 people employed by post-secondary institutions across the "Mid East" of the U.S. (defined by the National Center for Education Statistics as D.C., Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania) were not involved in instruction.
The operations of a college or university require a myriad of professionals—finance folks, communications and media types, facilities experts, campus dining services, etc. But as higher education returns to its "new normal" in fall 2021, the types of employees required in a post-pandemic world might change. Here are six areas primed to see growth as higher ed adjusts to life after quarantine.
Now that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other scientific experts have established that COVID-19 is primarily spread through the air, HVAC engineers will be in high demand to improve building ventilation, especially in older buildings (as are often found on college campuses). Ventilation systems may need to be updated or replaced entirely to help mitigate viral spread on campus.
Although more students will be on campus in the fall, it does not mean COVID-19 has disappeared. Safely reopening campuses requires not only vaccine access but also continued COVID-19 testing. Researchers at the University of Illinois and University of California, Berkeley, studied the protocols at 86 higher education institutions and concluded that successful reopening is reliant on testing that can be cost-effectively administered in high volumes and provide results quickly—and that takes people to run testing programs.
Mental health support
As students return to campus, they will bring with them their life experiences from more than a year of pandemic life. A CDC study released in April 2021 found the percentage of adults experiencing symptoms of an anxiety or depressive disorder increased from 36.4 percent to 41.5 percent from August 2020 to February 2021, with some of the highest increases among adults ages 18-29. Some higher ed institutions have turned to virtual therapy options to expand access. For instance, in January, Georgetown University launched HoyaWell, which allows Georgetown students to access mental health services online around the clock.
Campus dining services
On-campus dining has faced significant challenges during the 2020-21 school year, with colleges and universities providing increased takeout/delivery and contactless dining options. Some even began experimenting with "ghost kitchens." With the ghost kitchen concept, the dining area and soda machine are gone, replaced by a kitchen-only facility. Students order meals via mobile device and pick them up at designated spots on campus. Students appreciate increased ability to customize their meals, while universities have reduced overhead.
Diversity and inclusion initiatives
A national conversation on social justice—spurred by the murder of George Floyd and a wave of anti-Asian violence, among other events—has occurred almost concurrently with the pandemic, with those in Generation Z (many of today's college students) leading the discussion. To address initiatives in the areas of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, many colleges and university are hiring chief diversity officers or increasing the amount of staff available to reach out to underserved populations.
IT and AV support
In a December 2020 Cengage study of more than 1,700 faculty and administrators, 88 percent of respondents said they would make changes to their "pre-pandemic teaching" style now that they have so much experience with digital instructional materials and content delivery. Successful delivery of digital content requires the skills of a professional IT and audiovisual staff to ensure there's adequate bandwidth on campus, equipment is maintained, and faculty has been trained on how to use it. In a post-COVID world, the IT and AV teams move from a supportive to a starring role, becoming necessary partners in the business of content delivery.
Pandemic life will have reshaped the needs and desires of the higher education consumer—but that only creates new opportunities for those seeking a career in the field.