The Teaching and Learning Workforce in Higher Education, 2024

Competencies and Professional Development

Respondents are currently most competent in communication. Respondents were most proficient in communication (68%) and technical skills (54%) (see figure 18). They were least proficient in finance (5%) and change management (32%). While respondents in all position levels selected communication in their top three competencies, other minor differences emerged. Individual contributors and managers both selected technical skills as one of their top competencies, while directors and C-level executives and assistant and associate vice presidents selected leadership as one of their top competencies.

Figure 18. Competencies with Highest Current Proficiency
Bar chart showing percentages of respondents who chose each of several competencies as one of their top three: Communication (68%), Technical skills (54%), Leadership (48%), Project management and strategy (40%), Providing mentorship (40%), Change management (32%), Finance (5%).

Performance level increases by position level. We asked respondents to rate their current performance level for each competency, using four options for performance: entry level, mid-level, advanced level, and executive level. For each competency except finance, the level most often chosen was "advanced." Performance level, especially at the advanced and executive levels, varied by position (see figure 19)—specifically, those in higher-level positions were more likely to rate themselves as performing at the advanced or executive level. Notably, the competency that had the biggest differences in performance across position level was finance—for this competency, C-level executives and assistant and associate vice presidents significantly far outpaced individual contributors, managers, and directors when it came to current performance level.

Figure 19. Performance Level, by Position
Table showing percentages of respondents at each of four position levels who rated their performance at the advanced or executive level for several competencies: Technical skills: Individual contributor (65%), Manager (78%), Director (78%), C-level (81%); Communication: Individual contributor (55%), Manager (76%), Director (87%), C-level (93%); Leadership: Individual contributor (36%), Manager (67%), Director (82%), C-level (93%); Project management and strategy: Individual contributor (33%), Manager (57%), Director (67%), C-level (84%); Change management: Individual contributor (34%), Manager (53%), Director (69%), C-level (88%); Providing mentorship: Individual contributor (45%), Manager (63%), Director (78%), C-level (89%); Finance: Individual contributor (7%), Manager (16%), Director (37%), C-level (71%).

Digital literacy and adaptability are important for the future. We asked respondents to identify three competencies that will be most important for their career in the next five years. Communication was deemed most important (64% selected this in their top three), followed by leadership (57%) (see figure 20). Notably, although 32% of respondents indicated that they are currently proficient in change management, more than half (52%) indicated that it will be an important competency in the future.

Figure 20. Competencies That Will Be Important for the Future
Bar chart showing percentages of respondents who believe each of several competencies will be important for the future: Communication (64%), Leadership (57%), Change management (52%), Project management and strategy (44%), Technical skills (36%), Providing mentorship (24%), Finance (16%).

Respondents were also asked in an open-ended question what other skills and competencies may be important in the future. In their comments, many identified digital literacy, especially AI literacy, as being necessary for teaching and learning professionals moving forward. Many also noted that with a constantly evolving higher education landscape (and many challenges ahead), adaptability and agility will be key. Finally, respondents further clarified aspects of communication that will be important, with many pointing more broadly to interpersonal skills such as empathy and emotional intelligence, in addition to the ability to be a facilitator, influencer, and someone who can effectively communicate to and with diverse audiences.

"Being able to evaluate new and disruptive technologies, [knowing] how to integrate them into existing processes and procedures, while being constantly flexible and able to adapt to change."

"As always, being able to pivot, to accommodate new technologies, pedagogies, types of students, plus the ability to understand existing markets and recognize new markets in higher education and navigate paths toward meeting the diverse needs of higher education customers while maintaining the traditional essence of higher education."

"The ability to navigate the adoption of AI will be huge. With the COVID pandemic, we will continue to see new technologies be disruptors in the educational space, shifting the paradigms of learning to be ever more mobile while maintaining an in-person classroom feel with AR/VR."

"Adaptability will be key. Someone who isn't flexible and isn't [able] to face new challenges with a willingness to learn will not be able to compete at the same level as someone who can look at new technologies with a critical eye, accept the ones that are worthwhile, and reject the dead ends."

"Emotional Awareness is something I think that is and will continue to become more important in the world of education. This is something that, with the world changing as it is, will be imperative to maintaining and improving the educational environment and the motivation of learners."

"Effective communication practices with diverse audiences within and outside the institution, advocacy, negotiation skills."

In-house development opportunities in finance and change management are uncommon. We asked which professional development opportunities are provided directly by respondents' institutions, and a majority indicated that their institution provides support for conferences and networking (67%), as well as leadership (56%) and technical skills (56%) development opportunities (see figure 21). Fewer respondents said that their institution directly provides development opportunities for financial skills (14%) and change management (19%).

Figure 21. Professional Development Opportunities Provided by the Institution
Bar chart showing percentages of respondents whose institution provides support for several kinds of professional development: Conferences and networking (67%), Leadership (56%), Technical skills (56%), Communication (36%), Providing mentorship (33%), Project management and strategy (28%), Change management (19%), Finance (14%), Other (8%).

Respondents are most strongly encouraged to pursue conferences and networking opportunities (for now). The areas that respondents reported being most encouraged to pursue were participation in conferences and networking opportunities (63%), followed by technical skills training (58%) and leadership training (47%) (see figure 22). It is important to consider that at some institutions, personnel are being discouraged from certain opportunities, especially those involving travel. Moving forward we may see less institutional support and encouragement for the pursuit of professional development opportunities as colleges and universities continue to face enrollment declines and uncertainty in funding.

Figure 22. Encouragement to Pursue Professional Development Opportunities
Bar chart showing percentages of respondents who are encouraged to pursue several kinds of professional development: Participation in conferences and networking (63%), Technical skills training (58%), Leadership training (47%), Communication training (40%), Mentorship training (35%), Project management training (32%), Change management training (31%), Finance training (18%).

Professional development opportunities are not easy to access and could be more impactful. Respondents identified four areas in which their institutions could take actions to better support professional development at their institution.

  1. Remove barriers and make opportunities more widely available.
    • Bring training in-house/on-site.
    • Make professional development opportunities accessible to all—not just to faculty and staff from departments that have a travel budget.
    • Instill a culture in which managers support their staff's pursuit of professional development.
    • Provide dedicated time for individuals to pursue support proactively by offering course releases and sabbaticals and addressing staffing issues to reduce excessive workloads.
  2. Tailor professional development pathways to individuals.
    • Conduct a needs analysis to gain a better understanding of people's strengths and weaknesses and develop a targeted professional development plan for each department/unit (this should also be flexible/adaptable so that it meets the needs of the job requirements as well as the personal ambitions of the employee).
    • Better align training and skills development offerings to individuals based on their job roles and responsibilities.
    • Establish updated pathways for career advancement (i.e., identify professional milestones that are up-to-date, relevant) and create competency maps for individuals in different roles.
  3. Help people get the most out of professional development opportunities.
    • Foster an environment where individuals can work on academic development, and provide opportunities for experimental work.
    • Create a culture of encouragement and accountability (incentivize professional development by creating pathways to promotion and giving recognition to those who have demonstrated a growth mindset and commitment to their professional growth).
    • Conduct a regular review of who is attending what professional development opportunities in addition to the learning outcomes or objectives achieved.
    • Encourage coordination and collaboration between staff going to the same professional development opportunities in an effort to leverage the most from what is being learned.
    • Facilitate methods to encourage integration of professional development approaches into individual and collective workflows.
  4. Improve information, communication, and coordination.
    • Provide information about what professional development opportunities are available (at some institutions this is left up to individuals to explore on their own).
    • Create a centralized place for approved professional development opportunities for various core skills.
    • Hire a full-time career development professional to coordinate professional development opportunities.
    • Tailor the dissemination of information about opportunities to reduce information overload and ensure that individuals are able to access information about the most relevant opportunities.