Don’t Cut the Professional Development Budget!

Dr. Duane Kilty, Indiana Wesleyan University for the Association of Business Administrators of Christian Colleges

We can all agree that colleges are facing significant financial challenges and need to do everything possible to improve the bottom line.   We would also agree that developing our employees professionally is important. 

When times are challenging and budgets are getting cut, the professional development budget is often the first expense to go. It is an easy target since it is not required to keep the doors open.  Cutting the professional development budget is too common in higher education.

When times are tough the focus is too often on cost control and survival instead of the significantly more difficult work of making the changes required to compete effectively. Institutions often change only at the margins and use a “cut back and hope” approach. This only perpetuates the status quo, when, in reality, it is innovation that is most needed.

Professional development:

  1. Increases knowledge and skills,
  2. Increases motivation,
  3. Increases job satisfaction,
  4. Increases capacity for innovation and creativity,
  5. Makes it easier to attract in-demand candidates,
  6. Improves the retention of existing employees, and
  7. Makes succession planning easier.

Often times the WORST place to think creatively is in your office where there are constant interruptions, the usual day in and day out responsibilities of your job, and numerous idea-stifling disruptions and distractions. The best creative thinking is done OUTSIDE of the office, interacting with colleagues, listening to new and thought-provoking ideas, and having the ability to focus solely on the issue at hand.

We eliminate the opportunity for deep-dive creativity when we cut the professional development budget. We don’t allow our people to engage in the stimulating environment that might well be the incubator for the innovative solution your institution is seeking.  

We need the best out of our employees. We need their dedication and hard work, we need their creativity, and we need them to accomplish challenging goals beyond their current skills and knowledge. Maintaining the status quo is simply unacceptable. Mark Murphy says, “Goals that propel an individual to accomplish significant results [to] propel an organization forward require employees to learn new skills to accomplish the goals[1].” Professional development provides the new skills and knowledge employees need to achieve very challenging goals.

Too many institutions cut the professional development budget during challenging times. Doing so communicates that the institution does not care enough to help them achieve their best. It hurts morale and increases turnover. We then proceed to ask our discouraged employees to do everything they can to help recruit and retain students. It is certain that the discouragement we foster in our employees will negatively affect our customers.

It is true that many institutions need to make significant reductions in expenditures to remain viable. They need to cut deeply enough to have the resources needed to invest in new innovative programs and delivery models. Their future likely depends on innovation and will require their employees to develop skills and knowledge currently beyond their reach to achieve institutional goals. That means professional development stays in the budget and may even need to be increased and prioritized.

Institutions who have or are considering cutting the professional development budget are exacerbating the problem. They are applying a “cut back and hope” strategy that will not work. The better solution is to determine how we best inspire our employees to achieve goals that will propel our institution forward. What can we do to unleash the best creative energy? Our future depends on innovation, and our ability to innovate depends on our people. Investing in our people is investing in the future health and well being of the institution.

[1] Murphy, Mark (2014). Hundred percenters: Challenge your employees to give you your best, and they will give you even more. New York: McGraw Hill.