If you feel your compliance and regulation responsibilities have become increasingly unmanageable, expensive, time-consuming and overwhelming, you’re not alone. The number of unfunded compliance mandates imposed on student affairs administrators seems only to be growing, further burdening student affairs units already under pressure to accomplish more with less resources.
That’s why we gathered practical tips and strategies from members of the Student Affairs Today Advisory Board. They recently shared advice for making the most out of all this compliance madness. By following their advice, you can learn how to take steps to better manage the increasing compliance tasks at your institution.
Q: How do you keep up-to-date with all the new and changing regulations that impact student affairs?
Shannon E. Ellis, vice president for student services at the University of Nevada, Reno: I rely on professional associations and colleagues. We often call each other and ask, “Hey, what are you doing about the new regulation on this?” It’s not uncommon for one of us to say we knew about one part of the regulation but not about the other. On at least a weekly basis, I also talk to the government affairs staff person (sometimes called a lobbyist) at my institution.
Joan Kindle, vice chancellor for education and training at the Eastern Iowa Community Colleges District Office: In my experience, a government relations position has always been at the cabinet level. Regular briefings at that level are invaluable in keeping on top of the information and communicating about how and what will be done.
Eugene L. Zdziarski II, vice president for student affairs at DePaul University in Chicago: General counsel, public relations and government relations staff. Most institutions’ communications offices have software that can scan the Internet for various regulations being released from the Department of Education or other government entities, or for certain applicable key words or issues, such as sexual assault.
You want staff members — usually your dean of students or assistant or associate deans — to serve as your resident in-house expert and become closer to the issue than you could on your own. It’s better to have a couple of people working on this from different perspectives. Form relationships where you’re collaborating on keeping up with the issues.
Lori Reesor, vice president for student affairs at the University of North Dakota: Designate staff members for different aspects: knowledge or keeping up with policies and regulations, influencing public policy, and compliance or implementation. Match each of those aspects to a staff member with the right skill set and a passion for that task. For larger campuses, make sure you have staff members to help you manage and sift through emails from professional associations and other sources to connect the dots between any gaps or opportunities we have to meet the compliance requirements. For example, if you see something happening in another state, discuss whether that might also happen in your state or if you should follow their lead.
Q: How do you get upper-level administrators to pay attention to compliance mandates that have an impact beyond student affairs?
Kindle: Communication from student affairs has to go to the cabinet level. When those conversations are taking place at the cabinet level, those issues are taken more seriously. So bring the information to the cabinet level and take your place at the table.
Zdziarski: The student affairs VP has to take the issue up to the president and encourage it to become a cabinet-level agenda item.
Ellis: I go to the president and say, “I need you to talk to your direct reports about this.” That should include other VPs of other units, such as the VP of development, and the academic provost because he needs to discuss this with his deans and faculty members. Otherwise, we in student affairs risk being seen as the enforcer or the expert, when that’s not our job or my responsibility. I think we take on too much of an enforcement and information role, and sometimes it’s not our job to do it — it’s someone else’s job. So just think about that for a few minutes before you go down that road. For example, Title IX doesn’t fall under the student affairs unit, so although we need to be educated on this and play a role, student affairs is not the leader in Title IX.
Reesor: All of compliance is not our sole responsibility. It really takes a campus effort. Sometimes it’s appropriate for us to lead and sometimes it’s someone else’s job. I view it as a partnership. I think having support from academic affairs is vital. At times, I like the messages to come from student affairs so others know what we’re doing. But sometimes it needs to come from the department chairs telling their faculty. Although we can try to connect more with department chairs so they can help faculty understand what they need to do and why. Involve some faculty members in the development of your message to help ensure it will be read and understood by all faculty members. Use multiple mediums to communicate your message.
Q: How do you manage the financial pressures of the increase in unfunded mandates?
Ellis: If student affairs takes this on and gets all righteous about it, then you’re the one who has to bring it to the budget committee and find the money for it — and it will eat you alive. No one unit can afford the expense alone. From a budgetary perspective, you want everyone to share a piece of the responsibility, and then everyone sees the need. Otherwise, other units will say, “I’m not going to spend time or money on FERPA or sexual violence — that’s student affairs’ responsibility.”
Zdziarski: During budget reviews, explain that it’s a federal mandate, which ends up getting more attention because then everyone knows it’s required. Just like suddenly Title IX brings attention to health and wellness so people realize we need to fund these areas.
Q: How do you successfully manage compliance training for your staff members?
Zdziarski: Our university created a Compliance Office that monitors all mandates and makes sure everyone receives appropriate training. It’s also a good idea to post information on your website for each regulation, such as campus security reports and FERPA.
Ellis: HR provides all staff members with annual online training in FERPA, sexual harassment prevention, and child protection.
Make sure training addresses the distinction between what’s required and what’s suggested under the laws and regulations. Sometimes, in response to the weight of the government showing up at your door, a staff member might become flustered and give out more than they’re required to provide. So be careful and pay close attention to what you absolutely have to do and what’s required and what’s not.
Kindle: The tendency is to focus on the minimum compliance requirements. However, our actions need to be consistent with the core values of our institutions and true to our ethical responsibilities to our communities. There will be times when we need to question whether the minimum compliance is enough. That can be a hard stance to take, but it might be the one that is needed.
Q: Although many regulations and mandates apply only to higher ed institutions, what role can community partnerships play?
Reesor: Many of these higher ed compliance issues are just one part of larger societal issues. Most of these issues are more complex than just higher ed. So try to partner with others beyond higher ed. For example, students don’t first engage in or learn about sex or drinking when they arrive at college. So we partner with a citywide task force formed by the university president and the mayor to look at cultural issues regarding alcohol. Our university has also partnered with the city on a wellness model that addresses alcohol, mental health and other issues. You can also look into how you can partner with local high schools to educate students about consent and sexual violence.
Zdziarski: Most institutions have town-gown task forces on alcohol, but we can follow suit in other areas, such as sexual assault.
Kindle: Educate and partner with other organizations, such as national fraternities or community groups, who could be helpful in promoting a shift in how we’re all educating on these issues, why we’re doing what we’re doing, and how we might be able to assist each other.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Review checklist for improving management of compliance mandates
Follow these practical tips from our Student Affairs Today Advisory Board members to help you better manage compliance with the growth in unfunded mandates and regulations:
- Stay updated on new and changing regulations, mandates, policies and laws by staying connected to professional associations, colleagues, general counsel, public relations and communications staff, and government affairs/relations staff and lobbyists.
- Designate staff members for different aspects, including knowledge or keeping up with policies and regulations, influencing public policy, and compliance or implementation.
- Bring compliance and regulation issues to your president and ask that they become cabinet-level agenda items.
- Ask the president to ask other VPs and deans to get the word out about compliance to their staff and faculty members.
- Clearly convey when mandates are federal requirements so that everyone shares in the financial and implementation responsibilities.
- Make sure your institution provides annual campuswide training that addresses the distinction between what’s required and what’s suggested by the laws and regulations.
- Partner with other community and national organizations to provide education on societal issues involved in regulation mandates.