The Lifelong Learning of CE Organizations: Assessing Performance to Facilitate GrowthSoma Chakrabarti | Director of Continuing Studies, University of Delaware
The business of continuing education is an exercise in lifelong learning by itself. Many of us are accidental continuing education administrators, and continuously educating ourselves to lead and manage CE units as effectively as we can. CE units are more often than not charged with revenue and resource generation by their home institutions and are, therefore, continuously striving to find ways to generate more revenue. However, the business of continuing education is not all about money, despite the fact that in recent years CE units have been categorized by their revenue generation rather than their impact.
While revenue can provide the oxygen to allow the unit to breathe freely, it is not an end in itself. Rather, it is just one albeit critical metric against which our organizations are measured.
The business of continuing education is about impacting the lives of people, communities and organizations. It’s about transforming people’s lives—personal and professional—through educational opportunities that not only “give voice to those without voice,” but also chart paths for their growth and prosperity which in turn contributes to positive societal changes. This opinion piece also argues that fiscal success is built first on three crucial resources—people, processes and partnerships.
The truth is that, like any other business, the noblest mission alone does not make things happen (or change someone’s life through education). Even if we add a dash of a perfectly pictured vision and the cleverest strategy with carefully crafted Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-Sensitive (SMART) goals and action plans to the recipe, nothing will materialize unless we establish three solid pillars (3Ps): People, Processes and Partnerships. Only when we have passionate, knowledgeable, skilled staff who believe in the same mission, only when we have seamless processes and systems that have been carefully configured using knowledge and technology and thus remove any uncertainty and barriers of unproductivity, and only when internal and external partnerships foster collaboration and sharing, can the fourth P—the life-transforming, impact -driven CE Programs or Products (or services)—emerge.
We get busy in our daily minutiae and don’t try to reflect on where we are in these 3Ps and where we would like to go. There are some critical questions we need to be asking ourselves: Do we provide people enough professional development? Do we reward them often enough? Do we coach them when they need it? Do we encourage them to grow? Have we matched their skillsets with the work they are doing? Have we carefully assessed where we are spending time in our processes and what changes can we make in the systems? Have we used information and communication technology to its fullest potential in our processes? Are we measuring learning? Have we established a formal process in developing partnerships and are we proactively seeking partnerships? Are our partnerships conducive to transforming people’s lives?
These are simple questions. The answers should be simple, too. These are, after all, not big theories or lofty ideas. But sometimes the answers are difficult to come by. However, a regular self-assessment of our own CE organizations, setting achievement metrics for the 3Ps followed by implementation of certain procedures, is possible. Large businesses often use the Balanced Scorecard to track performance. Many educational institutions use the Malcolm Baldrige model, though some CE units have also used European Foundation for Quality Management’s (EFQM) Excellence Based Quality Program for Continuing Education (Quality Program) model. The third one is closest to a CE unit’s organizational set up, although improvisations of the self-assessment questions based on one’s individual CE unit maybe necessary. The other advantage of the Quality Program model is that it lets one compare with similar organizations through a benchmarking process.
The Continuing Studies (formerly, Academic and Professional Programs) unit at the University of Delaware Division of Professional and Continuing Studies performed a self-assessment using the downloadable Quality Program for Continuing Education matrix and score sheet and realigned with the Division’s mission to be the adult and non-traditional learners’ portal to the University of Delaware. Subsequently, its leaders and managers teamed up with the other leaders of the division and created the three pillars: People, Processes and Partnerships. Each one has its own mission, goals and objectives that lay the foundation for providing opportunities for growth to its own people (the team PEOPLE), implementing technology-driven solutions for legacy business processes and systems in information management and data analysis (the team PROCESSES) and building symbiotic partnerships throughout the campus and in the region (the team PARTNERSHIPS). The team PROGRAMS is dependent on the success of the 3Ps in building strategic and innovative products and services that have a positive impact in the region and beyond.
As we build the foundation of the 3Ps, we should not expect change to happen overnight. And we should be careful not to “water the plants” too much. Through continuous self-evaluation, we can chart our own path for lifelong learning in continuing education business that will let us consider strategically partnering with others to innovate products and services that provide educational opportunities to those who need the most. Most importantly, our people must be encouraged to prosper in an efficient infrastructure characterized by a culture and climate of innovation.
The business of continuing education is, after all, to provide access, opportunity and possibility to those who deserve it.
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 James Broomall, “Grappling with Irony: The Movement of Continuing Education Towards the Institutional Core,” The EvoLLLution, January 9, 2015. Accessed at http://evolllution.com/opinions/grappling-irony-movement-continuing-education-institutional-core/
Author Perspective: Administrator