INFLATION PREPARATION 103: Rising Costs & Labor Shortages

RALEIGH, NC – August 25, 2022 – In the last of his three-part INFLATION PREPARATION series, Bill Crouch, founder of BrightDot, a fundraising consultancy and long-term college president, outlines how higher education can prepare for rising costs due to inflation. 

In the first of the series INFLATION PREPARATION 101 [provide link], Crouch focused on fundraising – finding and retaining donor support. INFLATION PREPARATION 102 [provide link] addressed student enrollment, and the third in this series examines rising costs and staff shortages. 

No industry is exempt from the strain these have on the workforce, including higher education. For this article, we researched best practices in the educational sector as well as those outside it. We took reams of information and practical, relevant advice that we hope will help you address the most pressing issues. 

What are the most pressing issues? How do we cope with these challenges? Is there any way to catch up in the race against inflation?

Development officers need to work closely with administration to tackle these problems head on while planning for the rest of this year and into 2023. Fundraising can play an important part in solving the majority of the issues addressed here. This may include recasting your financial appeals and increasing fundraising efforts to soften the blow rising costs have on your institution.

Before we take a bird’s eye look at all the issues, we want to ask you a question first. Do you have a handle on where your organization stands with the financial cushions supplied by Covid federal relief funds? We’ve read about colleges that have exhausted theirs and don’t even know it!


Colleges will continue to see higher costs for supplies and services.

Along with everyone else, the world of higher education will have to learn to live with higher prices. 

  • Schools that need to buy new equipment or improve their facilities may have to accept higher interest rates on loans or delay improvements. One client of BrightDot’s saw a 70% cost increase in a single year to replace a roof! 
  • Carefully choose which goods and services are not vital and make a plan to implement changes.

Offset rising prices for goods and services by expanding your fundraising efforts to include in-kind, product donations, and volunteer support.

  • Many corporations offer these types of support. For example, Big Lots donates gift cards and merchandise to organizations in the educational sector.
  • Corporate giving programs can be a terrific way to connect with a pool of potential volunteers, including highly skilled labor. Often, these programs include employee volunteerism as a formal component of their community efforts. 
  • Consider soliciting donations of goods rather than cash from your supporters. For example, asking supporters to donate their used cars, motorcycles, or boats which can then be sold to dealers, using the proceeds to fund your operations. As the price of used cars has jumped over 40% since last year, this is one way that organizations can use inflation to their advantage.

Start thinking about the technology tools you use as an investment, not a cost. 

  • Software, apps, and other tech tools’ first function is to replace the need for human labor, thus requiring fewer people, reducing the time spent on tasks, and making life easier for employees. All of these are must-haves during a labor shortage.
  • The right tools, like scheduling software and employee management tools, can be an answer. If you are too busy counting all the employees you do not have, and your scheduling solution doesn’t make any other activity an option, you’re not using the right tools.


The tight jobs market has pushed many organizations to raise wages to attract and retain talent. Unfortunately, not all of us can afford to pay our staff more, especially those whose budgets are dependent on government and state funding. We either absorb the rising costs (which cannot be readily passed on to students), alter services and operations, or develop a high-impact fundraising campaign to address the shortfall. 

Whether it’s in the classroom, cafeteria, maintenance, or office staff, the labor shortage is impacting every aspect of higher education. “Why is this happening and what can be done?”

  • Staff are Leaving Higher Education

Survey findings indicate that 76 percent of respondents are seeking new work opportunities because they want increased pay, 43 percent want remote work options, 32 percent are seeking flexible work schedules, and another 30 percent want a promotion or additional work responsibilities.

“In the past, people were moving from one institution to another. Today there are a sizable number of those who are considering leaving and aren’t sure if they’re going to stay in higher ed,” explains Crouch.

When employees leave, that means jobs open up. In far too many cases, colleges are having trouble filling those posts. “It is a different day,” said Sean Preston, Executive Director of Gulf State College Foundation. “Positions that used to attract a hundred or more candidates attract zero or just a minimal amount of minimally qualified candidates sometimes.”

  • Colleges Can’t Find or Can’t Afford Top Talent

One of the best ways to overcome a labor shortage is to be extremely competitive in compensation and benefits. While every effort should be made to ensure that staff salaries stay ahead of inflation, this does not only mean money, although an increase in pay and things like health benefits may be part of it. Just don’t limit your idea of what benefits are.

Benefits are anything that add value to employees’ lives. Options like flexible scheduling, remote work options, and paid time off go a long way in setting you apart from other employers. While perks such as these may not completely offset cost of living increases, they will allow employees to eliminate extraneous commuting costs, achieve a better work-life balance, and perhaps move to a location with a lower cost of living.

What usually happens in a labor shortage is the other employees are expected to pick up the slack. They may do so willingly and with excellent work, but it’s not exactly fair to them if you don’t increase their pay. If you cannot do that right now, RECOGNIZE their extra effort. A ‘THANK YOU’ goes a long way.

  • Colleges are struggling with severe financial aid staffing shortages

While shortages can be difficult to manage for any higher education office, a lack of financial aid staff can have serious ramifications across campus — including potentially affecting an institution’s ability to meet federal administrative capability requirements [NASFAA].

Despite the tremendous work that these employees do, they are often thought of last, as their contributions are not seen until it affects every area of an institution. Do not make the mistake of overlooking them.

  • Jobs often filled by students through part-time work have remained unfilled.

Not only have campus closures and in-person restrictions reduced student dependency on campus jobs, higher ed is also now competing with other local employers for their students, especially in fields like dining, maintenance, and IT where skills are easily transferable across jobs and industries. Many businesses are able to offer higher salaries and more job perks. 

  • Don’t write off temporary workers.

This often takes a complete shift in mindset for those of us in the education sector. In one survey, HALF of all the institutions surveyed said they do not use temporary staffing.

There are vital roles in your operations that you simply cannot leave open indefinitely. Operations won’t function for long without someone in place. These are the jobs that have a domino effect on everyone else if they remain open. For those positions, consider temporary workers, or even independent contractors if the position is appropriate. Even part-time workers might be a solution despite the full-time openings.

Absolutely everyone has been impacted by the labor shortage, at every level. Hiring managers, scheduling managers, and the workers themselves are all bearing the burden from the trickle-down effects of being short staffed.

Work hard at communicating with employees, which also includes listening. Your staff may feel the burden of being overworked much sooner than you realize, so take employee communication seriously. 

Attracting a new employee is like attracting a new donor. It depends on your message of mission success. Donors want to give where their resources are making a difference. Employees want to be where their most valuable resource, their time, is making a difference. 

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