The Higher Education Zodiac

You might be a teacher if…you are thankful that your thought bubble is invisible in staff meetings. ~ The Teacher Next Door

The Higher Education Zodiac

I was sitting with a couple of colleagues talking and someone joked about their Sun Zodiac symbol and then we got talking about our Chinese Zodiac signs and it hit me, there needs to be a Higher Education Zodiac.  So I started thinking about how each year in higher education, much like the Chinese Zodiac, there seems to be a year of something, like this year, the Year of the Tiger.  Below, I have listed the typical years that we face in higher education.  Much like the Sun Zodiac, very often there is a major sign with one or more smaller signs rising.  For instance, while it might be the Year of the New President, the Enrollment Crisis and Rebranding signs might also be rising.  So here they are and of course, I look forward to any you can add to the cycle in the comments.

The Year of the New President

The Year of the New President is a year dominated by change, by meetings where the new president gets to meet with and lied to by people about who they are and what they do.  The year often is dominated by significant eye rolling and presidential comments that demonstrate they have no idea what most of us actually do each day.  My favorite part of the year of the New President is the inevitable speech where the president talks about something we don’t even do.

The Year of the Budget Crisis

The Year of the Budget Crisis is the most cyclic of all higher education zodiac signs.  In the California Community College system it seems to come on about a seven year cycle.  The year of the budget crisis is characterized by the equivalent of people running around with their heads on fire, every day.  It is often the year where all the rules about spending, enrollment, class cancellation and travel suddenly change.  It’s also the year where often budgets are scraped because someone in the business office didn’t think you were using that budget.  These can be incredibly frustrating years.

The Year of the New Initiative

The Year of the New Initiative, this is the most frequently rising of the Higher Education Zodiac signs.  This one seems to rise almost every year, but some years it becomes the dominate sign.  When it does, everyone knows the dance.  There are new committees that are formed, mandatory events to attend.  If you’re an administrator you are now required to wrap the new initiative into all of your meetings, your reports and your plans in order to make sure that you show all of the wonderful progress the new initiative is making.  For those of us who have been in the system long enough, we often see old initiatives returning with brand new names to be run all over again with the same fanfare as the first time, but of course, with a new logo and tag line.

The Year of Rebranding

The Year of the Rebranding.  This sign periodically rises in small ways in terms of fonts and colors, a redesign of the college letterhead or updated logo.  At times it can be directed at updating the college mascot, like recently when a college with a Trojan mascot realized their logo was actually the image of a Spartan.  You know you’re in the Year of the Rebranding when early in the fall the president calls an event that the marketing team is all yippy skippy about because we’re going to embark on a rebranding of the college.  This means the whole ball of wax, new logo, new fonts, and letterhead redesign.  It also is a big merch rollout year, marketing gets very excited to rollout their new designs.  But first, it’s a year full of surveys and meetings, you get to sit through image after image of all the new proposals and then in the end of course, a decision is made that no one quite knows how it happened or what the hell marketing was thinking.

The Year of the Enrollment Crisis

The Year of the Enrollment Crisis is very much like the Year of the Budget Crisis and often in apportionment based districts is highly connected.  Of course, the problem with the Year of the Enrollment Crisis is that we’re always behind the eight ball.  So sure, people running around with their heads on fire, threats of potential layoffs, enrollment rules changing frequently and often at the last minute but none of these can actually fix the problem.  Enrollment management is a complex process that takes time to plan and implement and most schools don’t actively and consistently work on enrollment management, particularly when things are good.  So when that changes and enrollment drops everyone panics.  These are particularly tough years.

The Year of the Anniversary

The year of the Anniversary.  For me personally, these are the most annoying years.  Much like the year of Rebranding, this is a year where marketing is beyond giddy.  You see we get a whole series of events across the year to celebrate the history of the college.  So of course this means requests to dig through all of the files in your office to find old photos or notes.  You of course will also be called upon to volunteer for a number of the events.  But it’s ok, because you’ll definitely get a new free t-shirt so you can wear it in the big staff anniversary picture where you all get together to spell out a number.

The Year of the Bond Initiative

The Year of the Bond Initiative.  These years are always rising for a year or two before they become the dominant sign.  These years are highly volatile because of course bond initiatives are a political process and decided by public vote.  The Year of the Bond Initiative may be the most all-encompassing of all of the higher education zodiac signs.  Everything becomes about public opinion, so there can be no problems, no controversy, nothing that looks bad.  So it means roll-over on everything and keep everybody happy no matter what.  There are more events, administrators will be asked to join community groups and more importantly, to speak at those groups’ meetings explaining all of the wonderful things we do.  Finally, there is the public outreach, emails, letters and of course, the phone bank.  Of course participating in all of these things are voluntary.  You know, you have a choice of whether or not to participate in supporting the thing that will be characterized as the most necessary single thing to helping students.  So you know, you can pass, you just have to be the one person who doesn’t care about students.

The Year of the Dumpster Fire

The Year of the Dumpster Fire!  The Year of the Dumpster Fire is when several of the higher education zodiac signs all come crashing to the fore all at once.  One of the things that I haven’t mentioned is that there are wildcard signs, we’ve all recently lived through the Year of COVID-19, which in fact has really been the dominate sign of the last two years.  These are the type of signs that come about very infrequently but can still dominate a year.  These are typically traumatic events for a campus like wildfires, floods, campus shootings or bus crashes where students die.  They can also be political, I’m sure in the late sixties at least one year was the year of the Vietnam Draft.  So the Year of the Dumpster Fire is a year, well, like this year.  At my college this is quickly becoming the year of the Enrollment Crisis, another year of COVID-19, with Rebranding and New Initiatives on the rise.  So far this year I’ve also already had a faculty member pass away, others who have lost loved ones and it’s quickly becoming a year of many staffing changes.  We’ve been fortunate with wildfires for the last couple of years as well as power outages but in California these are always possible.  So taken all together, yeah, the year of the Dumpster Fire.

Published by Michael Kane

Michael Kane is a writer, photographer, educator, speaker, adventurer and a general sampler of life. His books on hiking and poetry are available in soft cover and Kindle on Amazon.

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