Field Notes: Satisfaction versus stagnation: Professional advancement in small institutions

January 7, 2019
  • Competencies
  • Leadership and Management
  • Professional Development and Contributions to the Field
  • Professional Well-Being
  • Small Colleges
  • field notes
group claps and smiles for a female who is shaking hands with a male "Field Notes" is a regular Connect column covering practical and philosophical issues facing admissions and registrar professionals. The columns are authored by various AACRAO members. If you have an idea for a column and would like to contribute, please send an email to the editor at

by Cynthia A. Suter, Registrar, Heidelberg University

Many new professionals start at smaller institutions because we see it as a résumé builder; a way to get our hands on a lot of work and make a large contribution. Smaller colleges typically have less staff, and while there may be fewer students, this does not necessarily translate into fewer tasks. At smaller institutions, positions often require a professional to develop several skill sets; offering an opportunity for professional growth.

Once you’ve become a rock star in your position and are ready to either take on more work or look for advancement, you may begin to talk yourself out of ambitions since smaller institutions tend to attract local employees who are comfortable staying put. However, if you truly are looking for professional growth and to value the work you perform, then I encourage you to look at the adventure as a personal motivator to feel good about the work you produce for the institution.

For the individual looking for financial or position gain, I offer the same advice -- but be aware that you'll probably need to look beyond your current employer to attain your goals.

For me personally, I am motivated by self-worth and knowing that my colleagues appreciate my work ethic and do not focus on the amount of money made or where I rank in the organizational chart. However, I tend to seek out additional projects to keep my work new because that’s a huge contributor to my job satisfaction. 

With those thoughts in mind, the following may help your professional development and satisfaction:

Get recognized
Ask yourself, do you know everything that everyone is doing in your office? More than likely not. So this means not everyone knows what you are doing. Keep track of the work being performed and the little tasks that are not part of your assignments but you do them to make the office run smoothly or more efficiently. Share the extras during performance reviews or during one-on-one meetings to ensure your boss understands your contributions.

Seek projects
Most supervisors attend meeting after meeting to make visions become reality. If your boss is like me, I tend to keep a mental list of what’s needed and prioritize the work based on project timelines. If you are serious about being recognized then take the initiative and ask for projects that will stretch your skill sets and help you to learn more about the institution or other roles within the institution. This is a win, win for both of you.

Look the part
Look around at your college’s work environment. See if there is a visual difference in how people present themselves based on their role. If you want to be recognized as a key player then develop your attire that fits those roles. Paycheck not where it needs to be to afford an upscale look? Consignment stores offer great deals on professional clothing.

Be realistic
Small institutions mean small student size -- and small budgets. As I mentioned earlier your ambition may not solely be financial gain but you shouldn’t be asked to perform more without some reward. In that regard, patience will likely be required. Several sources state that small college enrollments are at an all-time low and will continue to decline over the next ten years. Therefore, if you know your institution is working through financial challenges know that asking for your work to be compensated may need to be negotiated.


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