Published on 2013/02/28
The Case for Distance Between CE Units and the Rest of Campus
While it is important for Continuing Education leaders to find ways to integrate their units into the overarching structure of the main campus, there are important differences that must be recognized and celebrated in the operations of these units.

In a previous EvoLLLution article, I presented the case for Continuing Education (CE) leaders to be aligned with the major processes of the rest of their campus to ensure better integration of their units with the main campus. At the same time, today’s CE units do possess different traits and characteristics from most campus units.  I’d like to highlight those that I feel are significant.

I like to define the CE unit as a business/entrepreneurial function working under the campus’ education umbrella. What does that mean? We operate within the educational/academic realm of the campus, but also rely on the use of business and entrepreneurial skills to be successful. We develop business and marketing plans, strategic plans that incorporate both educational and business goals and budgets for new courses and programs. The CE unit is a profit center versus a cost center that produces excess revenue (or, that six-letter word: profit), meant to assist the institution to meet its operational needs. This often includes being a self-supporting unit and not being a burden to the institution’s budget. How many campus units can claim this?

CE units are often agile and nimble, capable of planning, developing and implementing new programming for students in a short, but reasonable, timeframe. Their staff members are expected to have a sense of urgency, possess a lot of initiative and self-starter skills, understand both business and educational concepts and have a ‘make it happen’ philosophy. They are often the go-to people who have the reputation of getting the job done. They also facilitate and lead faculty and staff teams whose purpose is to develop and present new programming while also applying fiscal realities as terms of success.

The CE unit is often an alternative but practical door to the campus for many students. We attract adult students who are the largest-growing demographic knocking on colleges’ and universities’ doors. We understand their complex world of family and employment while striving for an education. We’re the units who have the programming, support and advising to meet their needs — often through high-quality online and distance education courses and degrees.

CE units frequently assume the role of incubators for new and innovative programming, especially during the summer term. Through the CE unit, faculty members have the opportunity to test run new courses and/or teaching methods while students are often excited about participating in courses that push away the boundaries of traditionalism. These initiatives can become the foundation for new curriculum and educational paths for the campus during fall and spring terms.

In my experience, the CE unit has commonly been the one to pioneer cutting-edge technology for use in the classroom. In many public colleges and universities, the CE unit was on the forefront of the current online disruption journey, encouraging faculty members to try out new course delivery methods and teaching pedagogy. This has encouraged campuses to also introduce online courses to their 18-22 year old, residential students. The next round of classroom technology is already being defined by new web tools and MOOCs.

In conclusion, as CE leaders, we must find ways to integrate our units into the campus structures while celebrating and demonstrating the business and entrepreneurial skills that enhance education and further open the door to the campus for those who might otherwise not even knock. We must sensitize our staff members to this often challenging dichotomy in order to better elevate continuing higher education for our students and our colleges and universities.

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Readers Comments

Ian Richardson 2013/02/28 at 8:44 am

I appreciate that the author makes a distinction between profit and cost centers. It’s likely problematic for all campus units to become as concerned with profit as CE units are, but I wonder if there is value in having CE units share the business/entrepreneurial skills with the other campus units. At the very least, this would enable them to learn how to better deal with the limited — and dwindling — resources they’re afforded.

Ravi Narayan 2013/02/28 at 12:56 pm

Your description of CE units as “incubators for new and innovative programming” was spot on. I’m curious to know: what is the feedback you get from faculty who teach in both the CE and ‘traditional’ streams? Are their courses transferring well from one format/method of delivery to another? Are there a lot of faculty who take advantage of the summer term and CE to introduce innovative courses?

Xavier Fleming 2013/02/28 at 4:10 pm

I have read both of your pieces on the relationship between CE units and the ‘rest of campus’ and I sincerely appreciate the points made. It certainly is a challenge to develop the appropriate balance of integration and separation that is necessary to operate effectively. You’ve been speaking in general terms thus far, but are there CE units you think are doing a particularly good job of balancing their relationships with other units on campus? It would be interesting to read about models or best practices to adopt.

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