Succession Planning in Higher Ed

January 9, 2023
  • Institutional Research
  • Professional Development and Contributions to the Field
One person passing a baton to another with the sun setting in the background.

By Kimberley Buster-WilliamsVice President of Enrollment Management at Northeastern Illinois University.

Hiring and retaining staff following the COVID-19 pandemic has been widely reported and remains a challenge. The authors of The Great Attrition is making hiring harder; Are you searching in the right talent pools, highlight that current trends include—reshuffling, reinventing, and reassessing. As shared in the article, these three microtrends reflect nuances of the larger trend:

  • Reshuffling- employees are quitting and going to different employers in different industries.

  • Reinventing- many employees leaving traditional employment are either going to nontraditional work (temporary, gig, or part-time roles) or starting their own businesses. 

  • Reassessing- many people are quitting and not for other jobs but because of the demands of life—they need to care for children, elders, or themselves (DeSmet et al., 2022, para. 12). 

Where does this all leave higher education? Where does this leave Enrollment Management units? While higher education has historically been slow to adapt to corporate management processes more and more leaders are considering the value of succession planning. 

Succession Planning 

The origins of formal succession planning processes derive from the post-World War II need for "replacement planning"—finding people to step into critical roles that had been vacated due to promotion or death. Today, succession planning and management is a practice that has gone from important to routine in corporate and government sectors.

Job Embeddedness

Mitchell et al. (2001) pioneered “job embeddedness” to represent a broad constellation of forces constraining people from leaving a job and liken it to “a net or web in which an individual can become stuck” (Hom et al., 2020, p. 122). As shared in the literature, job embeddedness comprises different forces that give employees the feeling that they cannot leave their current job, especially if it captures three dimensions: links, fit, and sacrifice (Fasbender, 2018, p. 329). 

Research Study on Succession Planning- Call for Participants

Despite the need for strategies to manage growing voluntary turnover (i.e., retirement), there is a gap in the literature on succession planning in enrollment management when one looks outside of qualitative perception studies. 

This mixed methods study examines engagement attributes (i.e., job embeddedness) and work engagement characteristics of middle enrollment managers that can be leveraged in succession planning. The study will be used to evaluate Schaufeli et al.'s concept of work engagement in the context of gender, level of education, generation (i.e., Baby Boomer, Gen X, millennials, etc.), and years of work experience.

Study findings will be shared with AACRAO members to assist enrollment management practitioners with building emergency-based succession plans and in addressing current perplexing trends such as “quick quits,” reshuffling, reinventing, and reassessing.

Utrecht Work Engagement Scale (UWES-17S)

Participants are asked to complete the free Utrecht Work Engagement Scale (UWES-17S), and a subset of participants will participate in a semi-structured interview (virtual). All information collected is confidential. Study participants receive a $10 Starbucks gift card. 

If you are interested in learning more about this study, please contact Kimberley Williams or complete a short survey.


AACRAO's bi-weekly professional development e-newsletter is open to members and non-members alike.