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Harsh Economy and Education

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Harsh Economy and Education
Kathryn Billy
Upper Iowa University
October 7, 2012

Abstract:
When faced with a global economic crisis, all industries try to determine their foothold and next steps. Education is definitely one of those industries who tries to find its ground, determine its next steps and figure out what message they want to convey to the world in regards to its climate and how it will do its part to contribute to a change. For the purpose of this paper, the attention will be given to communication and how it is rebranded and comes from the top down.

In 2008 when our current economy found itself in a true crisis and downturn, millions of people lost their jobs. The news was reporting daily on how many were at a loss as to what their next steps were. As history has shown us, during times of recession, many turn to education and the opportunities that it can provide. This was no different. Many of the newly unemployed returned to school to give themselves an advantage over their competition, and many returned simply to give them something to do while they waited out the recession.
College leaders turned to their communication with the public to help explain what was happening. “In letters, videos, and blog posts, leaders told their communities that they were not immune to the turbulent financial storms roiling the world economy and that they must work together to weather the tempest” (Masterson, Wolverton, & Carew, 2009, par. 2). While these messages were used to explain the situation to the general public, they were also used to explain why universities were trimming down their staffing needs. Many university presidents stepped up their communication making monthly and sometimes weekly addresses to their constituents trying to put everyone at ease during a time when it seemed like the end was far from happening. When it came to who had the best communication practice, college leaders turned to each other to determine what was working and what was not working. They even went as far as reading each other’s letters which could certainly account for the similarity in messages. They also looked to the other universities to see how they were making their cuts. “The prestigious Association of American Universities even put a collection of its members’ letters on its web site as a resource for campus leaders” (Masterson, Wolverton, & Carew, 2009, par 5). Gordon Gee, president of Ohio State University determined that for their message, avoiding doom and gloom was the best route to take. He felt that letters which took on this message set a tone of pessimism that was productive and created hysteria. In his opinion, a leaders role is to inspire not overreact. What Mr. Gee stressed were the opportunities that could be created by such a crisis, whether that is furthering education, responding to the needs of the student or the student programs. He also saw this approach as beneficial to donor relations. “No one wants to invest in an institution that views itself in a crisis or a decline” (Masterson, Wolverton, & Carew,, 2009, par. 9). James Wagner, president of Emory University also states that it is important not to play down the crisis. You can jeopardize your credibility as an education professional if you soft-pedal the circumstances. After the crisis in 2008, Wagner sent out a letter discussing the crisis and where he saw the university. No one knew how bad this situation went, so in his situation he felt that the most direct and open method of communication is the best. Later when Emory had to cut jobs and put a freeze on over 250 open positions, he reflects on his choice to be direct and open. “No one knew then how bad things would get, and he didn’t want to overstate the problem, either” (Masterson, Wolverton, & Carew, 2009, par. 12). Fearing though that he did not convey the severity of the situation adequately enough, following the cuts and freezes, he transitioned to stronger language about the crisis, and where the university fell into play. Other leaders like Doris Helms, the provost at Clemson indicated that it is important to speak with a unified voice. By having one person be the conveyor of the messages during a difficult time allows for more unified and standardized messages. Another important component is to say it straight. If you hide your message behind flowery writing, you are going to lose the impact of what you are truly trying to convey. You need your followers, potential students, and academic community to know that you are aware of what is going on and that you know what to do.
There are many more tips on how to be affective, things like leaning on the strategic plan, communicating what you know when you know it, don’t make crisis your only conversations, avoiding crisis fatigue, and making the budget understandable. The important thing to remember during economic hardships is to be aware, consistent and positive. As with any storm or crisis, students or potential students will get worried about their future. It is up to the educators to calm the fears and be ready to find solutions or at least offer some answers to their fears. Students flock to education during economic downturns and it is up to us to ensure that we are providing the best education that we can without over saturating the system.

Reference:
Masterson, K., Wolverton, B., & Carew, E. (2009). Harsh Economy Drives New Brand of Communication From the Top. (Cover story). Chronicle Of Higher Education, 56(15), A1-A15.…...

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