Published on 2016/07/18
The EvoLLLution | Partnering with CE: Roadblocks to Overcome
Partnering with continuing education divisions provides a great number of benefits to leaders across the institution—from senior leadership to faculty deans—but these relationships often get hung up by misconceptions.

Since the recession, continuing education (CE) divisions have played a critical role in creating access to higher education programming for a range of students, from those who couldn’t afford the opportunity cost of a full-time degree program to those who simply needs to up-skill or re-skill to enter the workforce. However, these CE divisions tend to operate on the periphery of the institution and their true potential to impact every aspect of a college or university is minimized. In the first installment of this two-part Q&A, Robert Wensveen shared his thoughts on the capacity for continuing education to support institutional growth. In this conclusion, he reflects on some of the major roadblocks standing in the way of the realization of this potential.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): What are some the most common roadblocks to forging these partnerships between CE and faculty?

Robert Wensveen (RW): There are some common and persistent roadblocks to these internal partnerships between CE and faculties.

First, there are territorial issues that arise: “This is our market, those are our professionals and we should be the ones that are best capable to serve them.”  A territorial roadblock is often difficult to overcome for CE units that are driven by profit or that have to be driven by revenue in order to stay afloat and viable. They’re looking for any avenue to generate revenue, which in some cases, depending on how much pressure is on them, can create territorial issues. The faculties also have financial pressures, creating a reality where they need to look for new avenues and new markets.  There’s a real territorial push-and-pull that takes place, and there’s only so much of the market to go around.

The second issue is, to some degree, a lack of confidence in academic rigor of CE. This is because CE units will not necessarily focus on engaging with staff of the different faculties or academic units. Instead, they will often reach out to industry professionals who may or may not actually be the best teachers or have experience teaching. On the flip side, these professionals also bring to the table a great deal of practical knowledge and industry expertise. It’s a give-and-take but I think that’s a bit of a roadblock in forging those partnerships with the faculties.

The last roadblock is the concerns of faculty associations within institutions. These groups are concerned by the fact that institutional faculty are not teaching a lot of these courses. This presents roadblocks in getting accreditation and in getting certain certificates passed or approved. Who’s teaching what is very important for the faculty associations.

There are several other roadblocks in forming those partnerships but those are some of the main ones.

Evo: How does cost sharing play into the development of these internal partnerships?

RW: It does always come back to financials. If the continuing education unit or faculty is viewed as a service provider, there’s a risk that everything will be viewed in terms of dollars and cents.

We can provide registration services, for example, because we’re better suited to support and take registrations for non-credit and professional development students. However when it gets down to the nickel-and-diming, where we tell our partners, “Every registration is going to cost you this much,” my experience has shown that that is not popular. A centrally funded model or a base model of funding is much more appreciated, because there isn’t the sense that they’re being nickel-and-dimed for every transaction they make, or for every change that they need to make, or for every new certificate that they need to offer.

There is a cost involved in forming these partnerships and senior administration needs to play a very active role in that. We are starting to see that here. Our provost has mandated that all non-credit teaching be managed through one registration system—whether that’s our enterprise ERP, or whether it’s with our own Destiny One registration system. This kind of a move can’t be mandated, but it instead needs to be incentivized, which is the approach our leadership is taking. The reason for this consolidated approach is that, to this point, we are unable to get consistent reporting. There are different units providing non-credit continuing education all over the campus, and our provost doesn’t know what activities are going on because they’re all being tracked in different ways—some don’t even have systems, and they’re using Excel spreadsheets to track enrollments. Our provost wants all of these continuing education units to be managed by a single system, and there’s no way to do this without a little bit of a “top-down” mentality, even though this is often frowned upon in academic institutions. It needs to be approached carefully, but it needs to be supported by senior administration. As a result of this change, the provost has agreed to bear some of the costs of CE taking these additional units on and helping them with their registrations, processes and systems. This means individual faculties don’t have to pay for this partnership. This move also means our central IT needs to be involved. There’s no way that we’re going to be successful in bringing in other non-credit units that are delivering continuing education unless the system we decide to use for this will be recognized and supported by central IT. This doesn’t mean central IT needs to house and manage our system, but they have to recognize our system of choice as a core business system.

Evo: How have you and your colleagues overcome these roadblocks in the past?

RW: One thing I would suggest to overcome these roadblocks is to ensure that CE is essentially following the same approval process as all other academic programs. I don’t mean for one-off courses, but instead when developing a certificate or program of study that’s a substantial number of hours. Continuing education should be presenting to the same academic bodies and committees that other academic programs are presenting to.

Additionally, continuing education units are very skilled at marketing their courses and programs. We need to do more to focus marketing on the CE unit itself. CE should create brochures institutionally that identify the value, operations and the services that continuing education can present, and express a willingness to partner with faculties. We’ve done that, we’ve created documentation and brochures that talk about our mission, our mandate and how we fit in to the formal charter of the university. That’s another thing CE leaders can do to entrench themselves and ensure their value is understood. It’s critical to work with senior administration so that continuing education is identified within the charter of the university as one of its core missions and one of its core mandates.

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Key Takeaways

  • CE units can gain allies across the institution by providing support to other faculties and adhering to the same quality standards and expectations.
  • Territoriality, the pressure to generate revenue and misconceptions about CE can pose roadblocks to internal partnerships.