Higher Education Crises: Training New Professionals for Crisis Management

By Holzweiss, Peggy; Walker, Daniel | College Student Affairs Journal, Spring 2018 | Go to article overview

Higher Education Crises: Training New Professionals for Crisis Management


Holzweiss, Peggy, Walker, Daniel, College Student Affairs Journal


The evolution of higher education administration relies on the continual training and nurturing of new professionals so they are ready to respond to student and institutional needs. While there is a general philosophy that the training of new professionals should provide both theoretical and practical applications of important higher education topics (Cuyjet, Longwell-Grice, & Molina, 2009; Waple, 2006; Young & Janosik, 2007), research tends to focus heavily on identifying what broadbased competencies are needed for professional practice (Burkard, Cole, Ott, & Stoflet, 2005; Estanek, Herdlein, & Harris, 2011; Herdlein, 2004; Kuk, Cobb, & Forrest, 2007; Lovell & Kosten, 2000). Competencies commonly appear as a list of skills, behaviors, or a set of desired knowledge which serve as a guide for professionals to successfully function in their work environment. However, the practical application of competencies and what new professionals should know in order to improve their performance in specific areas is often overlooked (Mather, Smith, & Skipper, 2010).

As one example, competencies developed for higher education indicate that new professionals should be able to identify the basic processes and contacts for crisis response as a foundational outcome (ACPA & NASPA, 2015). These competencies also include intermediate outcomes explaining crisis intervention systems and exercising an appropriate response during crisis situations. While knowledge of who to contact and basic processes to follow can be shared within graduate preparation programs or as part of an orientation for a new position, the experiential aspect of crisis management must come from individual institutions as part of on-the-job training. It is important to note that the ACPA/NASPA competencies are intended to apply broadly to the overall field of higher education. In practice, competencies need to be addressed specifically with institutional needs, functional area responsibilities, and students' well-being in mind.

In 1991, Mitroff and Pauchant predicted that high profile crises such as active shooters or severe weather events would increase around the country, and their prediction has proven accurate for higher education in the contemporary age. Crisis response has become so commonplace in higher education, that the American Association of Colleges and Universities (Rupp et al., 2016) included crisis management in its list of competencies for college presidents.

Despite the increase in crisis situations on college campuses and the increased focus on crisis management as a required competency for administrative leaders, higher education professionals often lack proper preparation, training, and resources to effectively address the situations they may encounter (Borell & Eriksson, 2013; Coombs, 2007; Dolan, 2006; Lave, 2002; Mitroff, Diamond, & Alpaslan, 2006). Training efforts are often focused on large-scale incidents where senior leaders, who have the authority to coordinate services across units, are educated on protocols for crisis response (Harper, Paterson, & Zdziarski, 2006; Miser & Cherrey, 2009). New professionals, due to their frontline responsibilities, are also likely to be involved in crisis events such as evacuating a facility when a fire occurs. While such events are smaller in scale, they occur more frequently on college campuses compared to large-scale incidents and still require training and preparation. Without direct training for situations they may encounter, new professionals may be unable to respond effectively.

The purpose of this study is to identify perspectives from experienced administrators regarding what new professionals need to know about crisis management. The crisis management framework introduced by Zdziarski (2006) is used to examine the alignment between participant perspectives and accepted definitions and practices. This comparison provides further insight into how challenges with crises are shaping higher education and how new professionals can be best trained to respond. …

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