Published on 2014/02/11

Three Thoughts on the Future of Continuing Education: A Young Professional’s Perspective

Three Thoughts on the Future of Continuing Education: A Young Professional’s Perspective
As higher education evolves, so too does continuing education; leading to a number of changes that future continuing education leaders will need to adapt to.
I attended my first continuing education (CE) conference last November in Lexington, Kentucky. I found myself behind a registration desk, frantically orchestrating more than a dozen volunteers at the Association for Continuing Higher Education’s (ACHE) 75th annual conference.

As ACHE’s Operations Associate, I had been gearing up for the conference for about six months; the financial structures, attendee materials and technological specifications were ready to be deployed. The opening day dawned, large crowds formed and the accomplished lecturers took to their podiums. Something that struck me as I interacted with colleagues from across the industry gave me pause, however. I was the youngest person at the conference. At 25 years old and a graduate student, I felt my perspectives were unique.

I wanted to add valuable ideas to the intellectual symposium. During the conference, I spent time earnestly reflecting on the future of CE and the changing trends that would likely emerge for young professionals looking to enter this field.

Based on my reflections from the conference and many other experiences, I believe the following three projections are important for future continuing and higher education leaders to consider.

1. The Democratization of Higher Education

Young CE professionals can expect to encounter a dramatic shift in American collegiate affairs due to the democratization of higher learning. The digitization and liberation of information will provide countless job opportunities for CE specialists. Dedicated organizations currently aim to provide free and open texts and resources for students. This resourcefulness will surely expand and unrestricted digital learning initiatives will deliver accurate and peer-reviewed alternatives to the traditional industries that contemporary students are accustomed to.

The collection of big data will also become progressively more influential in the near future for educators and administrators, as it will help them better understand the academic and social needs of their constituents. Leaders of higher learning establishments will be able to apply ultramodern analytical data in order to make vital decisions on how to best assist non-traditional students in their efforts to reach academic or occupational excellence in their respective fields. The comprehension and utilization of this pioneering information will require responsible and driven leaders.

2. Community Outreach and Accountability

Emerging CE leaders should be prepared to be held accountable for forming bridges between higher learning institutions and community workforces. CE authorities will facilitate the systematic interlinking of industries, public affairs and higher education institutions. The imperative collaborative and progressive nature of CE specialists will ultimately contribute to the growing health of the national economy.

As organizers of cooperation, CE units will also share the overall national responsibility of allocating funds and efforts to ventures that promote sustainability, conservation and green energy. The future success of any college will depend on its measured relationship with the environment. CE professionals should consider turning their attention to an emerging practice of higher education sustainability.

3. Lifelong Learning and Civic Duty

CE needs leaders to serve the members of America’s armed forces. The endeavor to educate our service members should be a top priority. Future CE leaders should look to the collective needs of our enlisted women and men. Educational units that serve the military forces within the United States and abroad will expand and require trained experts to provide top-tier services.

It is well-recognized that higher learning institutions serve a wide spectrum of students. CE professionals will be charged with the duty to find the most marginalized non-traditional learners and provide them access to higher education. People with disabilities, first-generation students, those who are looking for a second chance; all of these people will look to CE for guidance. It is up to young professionals to encourage the innovation of programs that bring a democratized form of education to underprivileged and underserved populations.

There is much hope for the field of CE, its evolution and identity. I am excited to see what the next 75 years will bring.

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Readers Comments

Peter Laramie 2014/02/11 at 7:17 am

I agree wholeheartedly with Khrapak that the next wave of CE leaders should focus on underprivileged and underserved populations. Institutions have had some success bringing adult students into the academy, but these individuals tend to have high proficiency in English, have some prior experience of postsecondary study and perhaps know of a few family members who have attended higher education institutions. It’s a whole different ballgame when you have students who are the first in their families to enroll in postsecondary, or when English is a barrier. These groups need targeted services that many institutions don’t currently have the capacity, expertise or will to provide. However, this is a conversation that needs to start now, so that once we’ve stabilized our services/programs for the adult students coming in, we can target specific, underserved groups within that broad label.

Lisa C 2014/02/12 at 11:02 am

It’s interesting to consider the democratization of higher education. At the risk of sounding like an old fogey here, I would caution against the assumption that this democratization will continue or that it will end up improving access for many non-traditional student groups. I’ve lived long enough to see that the talk of democratizing the system goes through cycles. We heard about expanded access and leveling the playing field when distance education was first introduced (learning-by-TV, back in the day). That buzz quickly died down.

The fact is, in our system, institutions strive to be unique by being the best at something and attracting “the best and brightest.” That kind of elitism necessarily excludes many underprivileged and non-traditional students because they don’t prescribe to our measures used to weed out “the best.”

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