Professional Development: Making the
Right Investments

illustration of writing a document

One state legislator is criticizing the University of Iowa this week for its plan to send 35 hospital workers to several days of training offered at a center in Orlando, FL, at a cost of $130,000. UI officials have replied that now more than ever, training represents a critical reinvestment in the organization. The conversation is one case of a nationwide trend in which campus officials have to negotiate between the need for training on priority initiatives, concerns over the costs of travel, and fears that some investments in professional development will look bad.

Larry Goldstein, President of Campus Strategies, LLC, suggests that a budget crisis is not a time to freeze professional development and travel. "The tendency to look inward during a budget crisis is counterproductive," he remarks. "It's important to look outward and gather new resources."

Here are some ways that Goldstein suggests rethinking an approach to professional development.

Recognize the Cost of Cutting Professional Development

"Not all problems can be solved by looking at your own resources. Having access to solutions others have reached is immensely valuable. The cost of cutting professional development is that you rely exclusively on what is known on your campus, instead of relying on what is known throughout higher education."
Larry Goldstein, Campus Strategies, LLC

Goldstein offers the example of a guided learning activity at a conference in which universities offered each other practical solutions to the challenges they were facing. "Where would they have found those solutions," he asks, "if not at that workshop?"

"The biggest cost," Goldstein concludes, "is not knowing what you don't know."

Assess Training Needs and Prioritize

Freezing professional development and travel across the board is a decision that does not take into account institutional priorities, and that can limit your access to valuable training and resources that can increase efficiency and save funds in the long term.

"Identify your priorities," Goldstein suggests. Certain departments may have greater need for professional development than others. For example, information technology is an area of rapid change and rapid innovation; for that reason, IT professionals' needs for professional development may outpace the needs of professionals in some other offices, such as the accounts payable department.

Within a department, you can ask the same questions -- where is it most critical that we stay up to speed? Where are we most in need of innovation and access to new resources? Be strategic in how you allocate professional development and travel dollars.

Ask the Key Question

In times of compressed budgets, just noting that an event covers a hot topic may not be enough. It's important to identify an outcome. When assessing whether to send staff to an event, ask, What will my staff bring back to the campus? If the conference is for faculty, ask how the event will inform their scholarship.

Maximize the Return on Your Investment

Larry Goldstein offers two strategies for maximizing the return on your investments in professional development.

First, be intentional about information sharing upon the staff member's return. If you send 2 staff out of 25 in your accounting office to an event, make sure that there is a formal structure in place for those 2 to share the takeaways from the event with the rest of the office. Too often, post-conference information sharing consists of an informal chat or a few minutes during a staff meeting. Goldstein recommends calling a separate departmental meeting to provide a formal synopsis of what was learned from the event, and what contacts or resources were gained at the event. "This increases the return on the expenditure," he notes.

Second, document which events were most valuable, and which did not prove to be the best use of your funds. If a particular organization has stellar programs related to a priority issue, note that for future consideration. If you attend a webcast that is unprofessional or offers no new information, note that, as well. This documentation will become a powerful resource over time.

"Track which professional development efforts have produced the most return on investment. This will allow you to make informed decisions based not on the cost alone but on the quality and the likely return."
Larry Goldstein, Campus Strategies