What Do Higher Ed & France Have In Common? A Brain Drain Problem.

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I paid a weird amount of attention to France after the 2012 election. With all of my friends clamoring for more French-like bureaucracy, I wanted to see if the fuss was worth the inevitable cost.

Fast-forward to May of 2015 and just before boarding a plane I purchased a magazine referencing the “French Brain Drain.” The details of said “brain drain” can be summed up in this Huffington Post article from October of last year. The gist of it? High taxes and little return on business risks have chased much of the French talent to other, more business-friendly nations.

Young, talented people in technology and business sectors are leaving the country and its 70% tax rate for the friendlier climates in London and parts of the U.S. (among other places).

I can imagine that this post and its title may offend some of my dearest friends, and that is not my intent. There are men and women of brilliance who work within higher education and some of them are kind enough to lend their talents to the world of working with fraternities and sororities.  At this point in time; however, there are many people who shy away from the burden of bureaucracy within higher education and that is what creates a “brain drain.”

Why would someone suggest that there is a brain drain of sorts within higher education?

The colleges and universities of this country are not as they were when they rose to prominence as the best of their kind in the known world. Roughly handled here is a suggestion that most institutions have chosen the comfort of their students over their principles in education. That’s a quick summary of a century’s-long transition, but I think it’s accurate.

Unfortunately, so too have government and parents gotten involved in the dealings of higher education. One of the books on our reading list, The School Revolution, makes the suggestion that localized education as a child (similar to the old days of home-schooling or local tutors teaching small classes) better prepares children to manage college.

That then makes parents less concerned as their child is less likely to face a crisis upon leaving home and learning on his or her own. Schools are pulled in every which way to solve any extreme set of demands other than those of the institution’s supposed driving force, it’s faculty and administration.

In an ideal world, each college or university would have its own core identity, one shaped by those who run the institution. I don’t feel as if I’m alone here, as there are plenty of Harry Potter fans out there and he attended a school as such.

Discussions of private versus public funding in education should be saved for another post, the importance here is that higher education, and specifically public higher education, has been regulated more than just about any modern industry in the United States aside from health care.

As is the case with France, this ultimately means there is more administrative and regulatory work to be done at colleges and universities. Staff need to be trained to meet a growing list of sensitivities and staff must be hired to manage and provide training on these sensitivities. That all adds to the cost of employing people and subtracts from the opportunity to pay people.

Don’t wait for the mud to dry before you go ahead and do things.” – The Sage of Waterloo

It’s no secret that professionals in our field of work feel underpaid. I can typically glance at Facebook or Twitter and expect someone to boast of providing exceptional work for a very efficient salary. Again, not bad, it’s very true, but it’s telling of a bigger issue.

Most people who work in our field feel that they could do more, and that they should do more, if only they had more time, more control over their work environment and more opportunities to work with students. They are crusaders of a cause.

Just like the Christian crusaders, they are tired, few in number, and amassing piles of debt to earn even higher degrees of education so as to live a higher standard of life and do what they love. To those of us who sympathize with fraternities and sororities, it’s a noble cause. To much of the rest of the country, it’s nonsense.

So what is a young, soon-to-be graduate to do? He has been taught by our very own industry (after years and years of assessment and research by the brightest minds our highly regulated industry can offer) that job placement, graduation and retention rates are the tell of a great school.

His parents have drilled into his head that college is the time to get serious, and they’ve been encouraged to search for expensive schools with small class sizes, knowing their child never got the proper attention in a system where teachers spend much of their time catching up slower students.

Is that child going to amass a pile of debt and face all of that pressure over the course of four years and choose a profession in higher education or at a fraternity headquarters? He won’t make his money back very quickly, and has limited room for growth.

There are many speakers, administrators and writers who make an upper class living out of higher education, but they are, for a lack of a better term, our 1%.

The fact is, higher education, as it gets both more regulated (annoying to work with) and expensive (but still less to work with), is and will continue to be less and less appealing to students of quality. Those men and women of passion and quality who do choose to join the field hop around quite a bit, likely because nothing they find satisfies their mind or their wallet.

How few of us have stayed with one organization for more than 5 years? Very few

Many of the reasons for leaving an institution, that I’ve heard anyway, include feeling overburdened or alone, feeling under-appreciated or powerless and feeling as if one needed a better quality of life or pay.

That’s a scary thought. At the Association of Fraternity & Sorority Advisers 2015 Annual Meeting (#AFAAM), it was shared that the average age for those of us in this field is 28 years old.

How on Earth can we be at our best when most of the people in our field haven’t been working or thinking about the field for more than seven years? This is higher education! If anything, it should be the one field with the highest average age; our product is entirely based on learned knowledge!

Things need to change. We need to change who defines the college or university, but it will require a change in how education operates in the country. It will likely be slow, and may get worse before it gets better (see: Greek Life Fees and Hidden Dues), but perhaps at one point an institution will be run by great minds who can stand up for themselves and their principles.

The brain drain that is staring higher education down the nose is not necessarily solved with even higher degrees of education, it’s solved with a refreshed opinion of education and how it is funded/overseen.