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Staffing Woes Continue at Community Colleges, Stalling Their Pandemic Recovery

Staffing Woes Continue at Community Colleges, Stalling Their Pandemic Recovery
Megan Zahneis
December 16, 2022
Community colleges are still struggling to recover from the “Great Resignation” that hit higher ed during the pandemic — with persistent staffing shortages directly affecting students’ experiences.
That’s the top-line takeaway from a December webinar presented by consulting firm EAB and the League for Innovation in the Community College. The troubled state of community colleges’ work forces could compound enrollment challenges that are already wreaking havoc on institutional bottom lines, experts said.
Two-year institutions saw a 13-percent reduction in total employee headcount between January 2020 and April 2022, EAB’s analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data found. Much of that dip occurred in the spring of 2021, at the same time four-year institutions began to slowly regain employees.
Those trends are likely related, Tara Zirkel, EAB’s director of strategic research, said in the webinar. Several community-college leaders told her team they’d lost staff members to local universities that offered higher salaries for similar roles. Simultaneously, the information-services sector has seen a steady increase in jobs — climbing 16 percent between January 2020 and April 2022 — providing another source of competition for a small pool of qualified candidates.
The result, Zirkel said, is a need to shift from the “cost-containment” mentality that pervaded higher ed before the pandemic, in which institutions may have sought ways to reduce staff by offering early retirement, to an “asset-management” approach that emphasizes retaining existing talent and aggressively pursuing new employees.
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