Due to the current climate and the transition to online, many universities and departments are having to make difficult decisions in regards to budget cuts. Furloughs, work breaks, layoffs and long closures have left departments struggling to project out where they will be fiscally as we transition through this pandemic. With online classes on the rise, student fees are a constant conversation at campuses across the nation. As someone who oversees a facility as well as programming, we have had to get extremely creative in how we plan to navigate our upcoming academic year.
Professional Staff Responsibilities
This is a time when many professionals may be finding themselves jumping into roles or work student leaders may have supported. Finding ways to reduce administrative redundancies while still promoting student development may be the key to successfully restructuring your area in regards to financial security. My coordinator and I have found ourselves stepping into more roles to manage program enrollment and staff scheduling to help transition the amount of staff present in the building at any given time, as well as trying to find savings to our budget.
However, we know our student leaders benefitted from these tasks so we find ourselves trying to figure out ways to enhance their experience while limiting some of their roles. One thing we have found successful was staffing them over a weekend when professionals are typically not on site and having them assist staff while they can be in the office as well. This has helped with social distancing standards and having a heightened level of presence in the building to support all our students.
The Aquatics professional staff have chosen to try and teach more of our certification courses as we switch to a more blended learning focus to help increase overall revenue. As we get closer to potential dates, I find it is a great way to help me ensure my teaching is the best it can be. With travel limited or nixed completely, we need to find professional development in any way we can. Teaching is the root of our profession and I look forward to running more programming this upcoming year.
There is No Small Adjustment
As I navigate each cycle of budget revisions, I am often reminded of the scene in The Office episode “The Surplus” where the manager learns the concept of spending all of the budget so they don’t get a reduction in a future budget. It is often hard to give up aspects in a budget or to make overall cuts. Departments are different and there are many layers to making cuts, but we tried to be as honest as possible when projecting spending. Services we provided to student staff, such as food during staff meetings, is more of a luxury than a necessity; paying 10 students to assist with hiring sessions can easily be reduced to five. We are trying to find all areas where we can save money.
One suggestion our student coordinator gave us was based on her experience opening. Traditionally, we give three staff members 30 minutes to open the aquatics center. Our student suggested we could give 15 minutes instead as anything not completed could be finished by our down lifeguard during their first rotation. This saved 45 minutes of time a day which projected to over $15,000 in our projected savings. So far this has been working out for us, and our staff have still been able to get their opening tasks done.
As professionals, it is sometimes hard to put yourself into the staff’s perspective and understand what they need. Since we have always scheduled that way, many of us overlooked it. Having opened with my staff over an entire week I have been able to see where our efficiency can improve as well as look for those small adjustments we can make overtime.
Students are Resilient, They Just Need Support
As a portion of my facility has reopened, we have had to create and run virtual student trainings to enforce social distancing and to get them up to speed on our new procedures. When we initially scheduled these trainings, I was worried the students would not respond well or learning off-site would not translate to what was expected in the facility. Now, it is evident I was wrong and worried for no reason.
All of the staff were able to attend the virtual sessions, even from across the country, and those who have been back at the facility have been able to adapt and react with ease. Much of this credit goes to the communication from the professional coordinator who would send weekly updates on the status of our department, mental and financial aid resources from the university, and fun snippets of what we have been watching and eating throughout the week. There is no doubt this continued communication and transparency was a huge factor to our success in reopening.
The students who have returned have been grateful and responsive to all our last-minute changes as well as picking up all the new procedures. Additionally, being connected to your campus happenings and resources will help improve staff resiliency. By sending out the resources weekly, even though they are the same, we hope to reach those students who may be unaware or too afraid to ask. Modeling behavior we want to see is key to ensuring the well-being of the students are met.
There are many paths to recovery and every department will be different. This advice may not relate to your experience, but I hope you can find ease in knowing we are learning together. Reach out to peers and create those networks of success. Now is the time to advocate to your supervisor what is needed to continue supporting students and members. We usually can look to best practices or historical information to help guide us to the right path, but we are all creating those practices now.