If the pandemic clarified anything, it is how essential non-faculty educators are to colleges and universities.
When I think about non-faculty educators, I'm thinking about all those professionals who contribute to academic institutions' core teaching and learning mission but who are not professors.
The roles that come to mind include learning designers, media educators, faculty developers, educational technologists, and other digital education professionals. These are the people who work directly with faculty to develop, design, run, evaluate, and improve courses and programs.
Non-faculty educators are a diverse group, coming from many types of educational and disciplinary backgrounds, and performing many types of roles related to teaching and learning.
What non-faculty educators have in common is that a: they are experts in the science of learning (inclusive of learning design and scholarship of teaching and learning), and b: they have expertise in the (increasingly digital) tools and methods of teaching and learning.
During the pandemic, non-faculty educators found themselves in high demand.
It was non-faculty educators who were on the front line with faculty - through direct consultations and workshops and the creation of just-in-time materials - to convert face-to-face courses to remote learning.
In the fall of 2021, non-faculty educators will continue to find themselves in high demand.
While everyone wants to get back to campus and resume face-to-face teaching and learning, residential education will not be the same. We have leapfrogged into a new normal of blended learning.
Plus, every college and university will be looking for new opportunities to create new online programs.
Blended and online programs need faculty, but they also need non-faculty educators.
So what is the problem?
As I see it, the problem is that colleges and universities are not doing nearly enough to think through recruitment and retention for non-faculty educators.
There are three talent markets for non-faculty educators. Three places where a non-faculty educator can choose to go - other than your school or program. These talent markets include:
1) Other schools/programs within your university
2) A different university
3) An online learning or edtech company
The demand for talented non-faculty educators will outstrip supply.
With the acceptance of remote work, non-faculty educators can now work and live in different places. As a result, remote work will increase the competition for the best non-faculty educators.
What is the solution?
Colleges and universities and individual programs/schools/units will have to pay much greater attention to the recruitment and retention efforts of non-faculty educators.
This means (among other things) the need for:
- Clear pathways for promotion and greater levels of responsibility and impact
- A commitment to play to individual strengths and align work with interests and passions
- Careful attention to work/life balance, through a culture of workplace flexibility
The reasons that non-faculty educators leave a job, or decide not to take one, are rarely around money. (Although compensation levels need to align with market realities). Job leaving decisions are almost always based on issues around opportunities for growth, recognition, and the culture of the academic work environment.
The time has come for academic leaders at every level to ask if their organizations are doing what it will take to recruit and retain the best non-faculty educator talent.