You are here

Human Resources

What keeps HR administrators up at night

HR administrators discuss their most vexing problems
University Business, December 2013

What tops the list of HR challenges at your college or university? Managing soaring health care costs? Maybe it’s faculty recruitment, succession planning, or shrinking budgets.

Below, HR professionals from four different schools share their chief concerns, revealing why it’s getting more difficult to get a good night’s sleep.

Overseas university

Employment issues are a concern at most schools, but one of Duke University’s key challenges is employment related to international expansion, says Kyle Cavanaugh, vice president of administration. Duke is involved in a joint venture project with the city of Kunshan and Wuhan University in China to establish Duke Kunshan University. The university will open next fall with a handful of undergraduate and graduate programs.

Cavanaugh spends each Wednesday evening on phone conferences with staff in China to review a wide variety of employment issues, ranging from benefits to recruitment strategies.

“Working through Chinese labor law issues to ensure those people are selected and hired appropriately is an enormous undertaking,” says Cavanaugh, adding that the school has hired nearly 20 people.

Compliance concerns

The biggest HR concern at Maricopa County Community College District in Arizona is the Affordable Care Act, says District Director Josh Mackey, adding that the institution has about 10,000 employees,

The law requires employers to provide health care to employees who work more than 30 hours each week.

“We have a large, temporary, part-time workforce that has not received benefits in the past,” says Mackey. “The mandate impacts our cost, so we have to manage and contain their hours so they remain under the threshold.”

One way is to re-define what part-time means and analyze which positions can be converted into full-time positions with benefits. But in HR’s effort to comply with the law, unintended consequences have appeared, he says. Programs are being cut back so their funds can cover employee benefits in converted positions.

“We’ve had to adjust policies and systems,” he says. “It takes us away from doing other value-added activities. We are devoting a ton of internal resources to understand the ACA and adjust.”

Online, on target

Training subject matter experts (SMEs) or even experienced faculty to successfully teach online courses has long been a challenge for the online division at the for-profit Bryant & Stratton College.

“Helping faculty transfer their experiences in an online environment—that’s the challenge,” says Karen Chapman, dean of instruction.

Many faculty members struggled with the process and ultimately quit.

Three years ago, the college revamped the training process. Now all online faculty—regardless of resume—must complete two training programs. Before logging into a virtual classroom, they must pass a three-week online training course, which includes an introduction to the college’s learning management system.

Once they are teaching, they also attend six online workshops over a two-year period that focus on active learning and online instruction strategies. A mentor also observes their first online course.

Chapman says the faculty retention rate now hovers around 90 percent. Even better, SMEs are introducing content and sharing their professional experiences much earlier than those who hadn’t taken the training. “It has worked out really well,” says Chapman. “This was really a key component in building relationships with our faculty and retaining them.”

Star power

The University of Florida has ambitions of becoming one of the top 10 public higher ed institutions in the country. To that end, HR is actively recruiting employees with impressive research credentials or access to federal research dollars.

“We believe recruiting those faculty, as well as the staff who support them, is an important factor in our success,” says Paula Fussell, vice president of HR services.

Because the school lacks total discretion in how some of its funds are spent—roughly 30 percent of its revenue comes from the state—Fussell says HR continually reviews its compensation and benefit offerings. “We’re making sure that we’re competitive across the country and world,” says Fussell.

Although the school’s budget was cut by $38 million, the state recently approved additional funding for faculty salaries, recruitment, and development.

Carol Patton is a Las Vegas-based writer.