After the indulgences of December, I have to say that I generally embrace the starkness of January and planning for the calendar year ahead. Many of you are deep in basketball and the other sports of this winter season, but I suspect all of us are looking for the tea leaves to tell us how this academic year will wrap up.
The year ahead…
I have never been one for predictions and one of the main lessons from the last few years is that all bets are sort of off. However, I have found these education trend articles looking ahead to education 2023 insightful if you missed them over the break.
I have been thinking about these education related projections, but I am contemplating the nearer future of the economy and the workforce. Many schools have their reenrollment letters out, with the new admissions offers soon to come, and the hiring cycle well underway. Below are the top-of-mind issues and resources I have been thinking about as we get into the very business side of the school year.
The South was once again one of the winners of the migration sweepstakes, with four of the top five states to which people move being in our part of the country on this link, and this is pretty consistent with other studies. I firmly believe this migration has insulated many of our schools from giving back their “Covid bump” and allows those schools some financial and philosophical wiggle room. The big existential question for schools benefitting from this window is how to leverage that bump to create sustainability for the downturn that we might see in the economy ahead. Some schools are seeing cultural challenges having so many new families in such a short period of time, too, and that may exacerbate the polarization we have seen over the last few years.
Overall Risk Ahead: Economy and Work Force
The one thing that seems certain ahead is uncertainty. This is true even if you are on the receiving end of the migration noted above. There are two pieces you might want to check out about the major obstacles ahead. One is this visual on Global Risks of 2023. The other is the C-suite take on driving growth and mitigating risk during extreme volatility. These two links work nicely together and there are some takeaways for our sector, even though we might think about some of these topics differently as educational institutions.
By far, the number one thing that people seem to be focused on is the economy and the likelihood of a downturn or full-blown global recession. Indeed, the World Bank just downgraded the global economic prospects report a few days ago, bringing its projection down from 3% to 1.7%. For our part, we do need to brace ourselves for financial fallout, especially as many schools now have families whose jobs are not necessarily locally based. In the economic downturn of 2009, big pockets of the South had some insulation as there was so much local growth. Although I am having a hard time finding the exact data on point, some of the moves to our region have been driven by newfound work flexibility for many families, particularly in finance and related industries. As the economy slows, transactions slow, markets remain volatile or experience downturns, and we might find our families more impacted than we did in 2009.
The good news is that while inflation continues, it is starting to slow. Many, if not all, schools have seen the very real impact of inflation on the day-to-day costs of running schools, including in the most basic ways such a food, fuel, and standard supplies. The great news, though, is that as inflation has started to fall the consumer price index fell in December for the first time in two and a half years. This hopefully heralds good news ahead in terms of costs.
The other big topic that we have in common with our C-Suite friends in the for-profit world is around the work force. Talent recruitment, retention, management, and growth are going to be huge topics for our schools, as they have been for last few years.
I have come across some pieces that make me a little optimistic. The first is maybe optimistic to a fault, in that it almost concludes that there really might not be a teacher shortage. The theory here is that public schools (the schools for which it is easiest to get data) have been hiring like mad, and there are demographic and funding cliffs coming for some of these schools. This sort of makes sense when you look at the next two articles. This one focuses on how school budgets have soared over the last few years, but that the end is coming. The next is specifically related to what states will do when the Covid money runs out. In short, the Covid funding and some other financial windfalls related to the pandemic will eventually undermine the current staffing models within public schools. This may mean that our schools have an opportunity to hire experienced educators coming from the public education sector.
This is going to be important because of the workforce data shared in this New York Times piece. This article tracks the work lives of Baby Boomers and notes that the timing of the 2009 downturn still had us leveraging Boomers in the workforce. Now we are starting to get to the tail end of that generation and there is some indication that they are not coming back to work. This is going to keep the labor market tight and potentially make us more likely to see turnover in our staff and make it harder to hire.
One potential turn in the road ahead is a bill in Congress called the American Teacher Act. This bill proposes establishing a federal minimum salary of $60k for all public school teachers. This is a bit higher than the $41k average starting salary across the country. While this bill is not trying to mandate a minimum salary for private schools, it would obviously impact the teaching market in a substantial way. Given that the Republicans have just taken over the House, this bill is unlikely to pass, but it could be a harbinger of things to come.
The economy is obviously something we need to brace for, while the workforce trends we can potentially plan for a bit differently. Here are some resources that might be useful:
Continued Focus on Wellbeing
Wellbeing, how to define it, how to support it, and how to encourage it will continue with students and adults, including staff, parents, and alumni. Importantly, the tensions around this topic are being felt across all employers as millennials and Gen Z employees continue to expect more work life balance. We will need to find a way to support and address these concerns at all levels. For those looking for some background and resources here, see below.
We have all been hearing and talking about edtech for so long that I think it’s easy to glaze over when the phrase gets thrown out there. However, artificial intelligence has catapulted us into a new place, particularly over the last maybe six months, and certainly in the last eight weeks with the launch of ChatGPT. I personally cannot wait to see what edtech does with AI, as I think it will ultimately help every student learn better. We all need to be tracking what is happening here and have serious conversations about how our schools think about AI in the classroom and how students and staff might use it in both healthy and unhealthy ways. We should also be thinking about how AI will play a role in the future lives of our students and the skills they will need to work with it, be relevant in society, and have a fundamental understanding of what it means to live purposeful lives as AI starts to replace people in some roles. Resources are provided for your background reading on this topic here.
An Exciting Year Ahead
Years ago I came across research that concluded that anxiety and excitement are borne from the same responses, but how we label them or lean into one or the other changes everything about how we experience a given moment. These are challenging issues we are facing at this moment, but they are also exciting times as work with exceptional colleagues to tackle the challenges we are all facing. The last three years have shown that we are agile, and we can take on complex issues to great outcomes. I am excited to see what that will look like.
In the meantime, do not hesitate to let me or anyone on the SAIS team know how we can help you or your school.
In this recording, we joined SAIS President Debra Wilson for the new Trustee Education Series focused on best practices in independent school governance, including boundaries, confidentiality, committee structure, and more. The curriculum is designed for heads of school, board chairs, and trustees.