TWO years from now, the country’s colleges and universities will open the new school year with a glaring absence: there will be no freshmen.

That’s because 2016-2017 will be the first year of the new senior high school or Grade 11 under the expanded basic education program.

For a few months now, college teachers have been trying to call attention to what awaits them, including the prospect of early retirement, once this aspect of the K to 12 program takes effect. But while this appears, at first glance, to be a labor or job security issue, the situation is more complex than that.

Higher education institutions (HEIs) want to hold on to their qualified teachers. This much has been emphasized in K to 12 discussions among private organizations like the Catholic Education Association of the Philippines. But for institutions that offer both basic and higher education, the costs will be staggering.

These institutions will not only have to deal with a lack of enrollees in 2016-2017 and 2017-2018; they will also have to invest in a new senior high school division, including the training of teachers for these new grades.

College teachers, particularly those who teach general education subjects, may be assigned to senior high school classes, but they would need to be licensed to teach basic education first.

And then there’s the potentially thorny matter of pay. College teachers who are not licensed to handle basic education classes worry that they would be considered part-time teachers and suffer pay cuts if they agree to teach Grades 11 and 12. Those who refuse to teach senior high do have options, but none of them are painless: a two-year sabbatical (paid if they’re fortunate, but unpaid if their university can’t afford it); research or administrative work; early retirement; or redundancy. Tenure offers little protection.

Amidst the anxiety, it helps to remember that the basic education upgrade was necessary. But, yes, there are still tough lessons ahead, and a transition that threatens to be rocky.