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What Can Local Government Learn from Higher Education?

Posted on February 12, 2019


Graduation - Tossing the hats

What am I watching: Yellowstone documentaries

What I am listening to:  GovLove podcasts

What I am reading: 2008 FORD Escape Owners Manual


I accidentally started my career working in higher education. Although higher education was not the best career fit, I am grateful for what I learned while I was there. As I transitioned into local government, I reflected on the differences between working in education and local government and what we can learn from watching trends in this field.

So what can we learn from higher education about college students?

Connecting with young adults. Many of our meetings are attended by those closer to retirement than college. Universities and colleges continually work to connect with the 18 to 22 year old demographic, and by watching and learning from these trends, we can see what is adaptable to local government and where to send our messages.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. When I graduated in 2007, college students were having different conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion than the ones happening in 2019.  Students are graduating with an increased understanding of the systems of oppression, and their own identities. Many students expect that workplaces will be inclusive and welcoming to their identities and self expression, and if they don’t feel that, it may contribute to them leaving.

Document learning, not just satisfaction. Higher education is placing less emphasis on satisfaction of services, and more emphasis on learning both in and out of the classroom. In areas of local government where learning is the important thing, we should also measure that. For example, it is great to be satisfied with your kid’s swimming coach, but what if your kid can’t actually swim after taking swim lessons.  If the failure rate is high, then you can evaluate why and make a path forward.

Encourage Innovation, Evaluate, and Scale!  Before I left my institution held a Shark Tank style innovation style competition and projects had to cross department boundaries.  It was interesting to see what people came up with and there were so many great ideas. Because many projects involved several departments, it was helpful building relationships with others across the division. While this competition isn’t a trend across college campuses, my institutions are increasingly relying on innovation as they make the most of the resources they have.

These are just a few of my thoughts on what we could get by looking at the field of higher education and specifically Student Affairs.  These institutions are collectively shaping the expectations of many of our future residents and employees. By paying attention, we can adapt their successes to engage young adults, make data driven decisions, and make a better working environment.


Susan Barkman, is a Neighborhood Liaison for the City of Aurora.

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