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2017-03-24 / News

Growing through booms and busts

The history of HigherEdJobs and what’s next for the higher education market
By Spencer Myers

Ikenberry Ikenberry University Park, PA – Having been founded at the start of a consistent rise in both the higher education and online job posting markets, it could be easy to say that Higher Ed Jobs was at the right place at the right time. But the disruption of the dot-com bubble proved that booms can test a company even more than busts and HigherEdJobs maintained through both.

Founded in 1996 by three (now former) Penn State employees working in the development office, HigherEdJobs was early to the market for online job databases.

“At the time we were a bit ahead of the curve. Monster was certainly not the brand name that it is today. Careerbuilder, Indeed and Google weren’t around yet. So it was sort of a different world out there,” said John Ikenberry, president, who co-founded the company along with Andy Hibel and Eric Blessner.

“There was a need there and candidates quickly recognized that searching for jobs online and applying for jobs online was significantly easier and faster. So that was an immediate benefit. … On the employers side, it took time for the colleges and universities to recognize the change and realize that the most effective and less expensive way to get good candidates was online,” he said.

In 1999, after three years of giving away their service for free, the company translated the early success of the dot- com boom into long-term growth by transitioning into a paid service. In 2000, the company moved into its first office space in Innovation Park. The park has worked well for the company, which has moved from space to space as they grew.

Now, 1.5 million academic professionals come to the site each month to look at postings. Last year alone, the company worked with 5,400 colleges and universities to help them post 186,000 jobs. They also opened a second office in Oak Park, Illinois in early 2000 to run its day-to-day operations.

Ikenberry believes that the company’s fiscal responsibility and knowledge of the higher education market ensured steady growth throughout the bust, as opposed to the myriad of companies that grew fast and fell apart even faster in the early days of online commerce and communication.

“Having witnessed and lived through [the dot-com bubble] I would say we ran our business more traditionally and conservatively than some of the other businesses you saw rise up quickly and quickly crash.

“There were a lot of businesses that got started with wishful thinking about what the demand would be. There was a lot of talk about building communities but they didn’t really have a plan for why those communities would come to their website, yet they were able to raise a lot of money but not really have viable businesses. Since we had all come from higher education and had done our own job searches in the industry, I think we had an intimate knowledge of the industry and of the need,” he said.

The future of higher education

So how does the market of higher education look moving forward?

While HigherEdJobs’ most recent report on higher education employment indicates a 1.9 percent growth in jobs, it also shows a 1.5 percent decrease in job postings.

“We will have to see how this plays out in future quarters but it would seem from these numbers that higher education is at a [possible] tipping point and that the number of people employed in higher education was up a moderate amount in the 3rd quarter of 2016 but postings for positions were down. It’s possible that we’re seeing that while employment is up it might level off in future quarters,” he said.

With PASSHE bringing in an independent review board to help keep itself profitable (see our story on page 4) and the overall rhetoric of higher education shifting from promoting four- year degrees to giving more airtime to stackable certifications and training, it seems higher education might be experiencing a shift.

“It is a trend that we’ve seen in other states. I know that in Georgia there has been some consolidation of colleges and universities. Every state needs to look at how it is allocating its resources and make sure, as with any service, that it is delivering the public good in the most efficient way possible.

“With that said, Pennsylvania has a rich history of higher education and they have some wonderful institutions. I would certainly hope that our leaders would be very thoughtful in the decisions that they make. It is hard work to build an institution of quality but you can wreck that if you aren’t careful.

“You have to go about these things in a thoughtful and intelligent way. We are big supporters of higher education and all that it does for our society and the individuals involved.

“Of all the things for our society to support, education and higher education are among the very best investments that we as a society can make,” Ikenberry said. .

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