Published on 2014/10/07

Five Ways Continuing Education Leaders Can Improve Their Efficiency

Five Ways Continuing Education Leaders Can Improve Their Efficiency
Understanding the differences between CE and the rest of the institution and bringing in new efficiency-creating tools is critical for CE units to reduce their operating costs and improve their service.
About 10 years ago while visiting another university I walked into a continuing education (CE) program coordinator’s office for a meeting. On the wall to the side of her desk were about 45 yellow sticky notes, each with a name and phone number, aligned in various columns. I asked about the meaning and the arrangement. Her answer? Upcoming class enrollment reports.

Her method worked for her — assuming no random wind guests unstuck her reports. But we’ve come a long way in the last decade that we no longer need sticky notes to manage our enrollments. Software solutions (both cloud based and locally hosted) can manage enrollments, student leads, client and instructor agreements, payment tracking, course evaluations and more. Most large institutions allow the CE unit to use the host institution’s software, but the traditional university software packages don’t always translate into the specific needs of CE programs. Immunization records, residency requirements, high school transcripts, etc. aren’t fields that most non-credit and professional development program managers need to complete prior to admission to a one-day class.

So how can CE leaders streamline back-end processes to help their programs run more efficiently? Do CE leaders run into roadblocks within the institution when they try to operate their units in a more business-like fashion, and how they can overcome this resistance? Here are few key points:

1. Understand Your Differences

Make the case that one size does not fit all. Just like the research functions of an institution are different than the teaching functions, the CE program is different than the typical four-year undergraduate program. This is even truer with non-credit programs, which sometimes just require payment information and a name to enroll a student into a class. Using Banner, PeopleSoft or other large CRM programs can be cumbersome. Make the business case that a leaner, smaller program, with proportionally lower licensing fees (covered by the CE unit), is a better fit in your unit’s case.

2. Be Agile

Speed and responsiveness are key aspects of CE programs. With CE units being workforce and community need based, waiting for the university faculty to return in the fall to approve a new certificate program might not be in the best interest of the overall institution. Find a way to have new CE content and related issues acted on appropriately within a timely fashion to help streamline the operational efficiency. Can the provost, CE executive or other related role approve new programs on a provisional basis?

3. Bring Unique Elements In-House

Creating a college view book and marketing a one-week professional development boot camp for the CE program are two different marketing projects. Having the central institution’s marketing department might save on costs, but allowing a CE unit to do its own in-house marketing (or outsource to a local provider) is a solid business efficiency. Consider having your own dedicated marketing person or team to help grow your programs. The marketing staff should pay for themselves with increased enrollment. For goodwill within the institution, have one of your marketing staff become an expert on a topic (social media, SEO, stock photography, promotional marketing, etc.) and share those best practices with the central marketing group.

4. Be Willing To Outsource

We cannot necessarily keep all functions and activities in-house, especially when it comes to finding efficiencies. We need to keep our core differentiators — our core functions — in-house, but in most cases we can find service providers who can take care of business functions more effectively and less expensively than we can do ourselves.

5. Find Ways for Staff to be More Effective

This follows on the last point, but staff often spend a great deal of time doing low-value but business-critical tasks that could easily be automated or streamlined by an external product. Think back to my story about the program coordinator. If that institution had invested in an enrollment management tool, that coordinator could spend more time working directly with students, exploring ways to help her institution grow and ultimately working on more high-touch, high-value tasks. Instead, she spent a lot of her time writing and organizing sticky notes. This is an inefficient way for an institution to function.

Conclusion

Most efficiency-creating changes can be a challenge to work through an institution. As more CE programs are forced to operate in a businesslike manner, adapting a localized version of the above ideas can help move your program forward to greater community service and revenue generation. But still keep the stack of sticky notes handy, just in case.


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Readers Comments

Nancy Mabee 2014/10/07 at 11:52 am

Agility is no longer the sole domain of CE. At my campus, leaders are bringing us into the main fold to understand how CE works, how the whole institution can be more responsive, etc etc etc

    John DeLalla 2014/10/07 at 5:33 pm

    Nancy,
    How wonderful that CE is being brought into the mix for the whole campus. That’s what I hear of a lot CE leaders lament – is they want a seat at the table. Congratulations! John

Skeptical 2014/10/07 at 12:59 pm

Staff effectiveness is an interesting point when we’re talking about efficiency. After all, efficiency is usually followed by layoffs. That’ll make ‘em work harder!

Karl L. 2014/10/07 at 4:36 pm

I don’t know why we’re all so committed to outsourcing everything. What’s wrong with keeping product development in-house? It ensures that the product meets exactly the needs we’re looking for, and we can develop the product – start to finish – with our key stakeholders intimately involved. What’s wrong with that?

    John DeLalla 2014/10/07 at 5:38 pm

    Karl L.,
    Nothing is wrong with keeping things in house. But if you don’t have the expertise or time, outsourcing is an alternative. It might cost more up front, but what’s the cost of not doing it?
    John

Cathy E. 2014/10/07 at 5:09 pm

the point about CE being unique is well-made and important. we do things differently than main campus, and we have very different priorities (i.e.: immunization records!?!?!). while we can often use the same systems as our main campus cousins, we typically need them to be so heavily customized that they eventually become completely unique.

    John DeLalla 2014/10/07 at 5:44 pm

    Cathy E.,
    You’re right – finding that middle ground between the institutionally-adopted system and what works for ContEd units can be tough. Thankfully as more schools move to customized cloud-based solutions, there might finally be a one-sized fits all solution. Until then our ContEd staff will still to need to figure out how get around a ContEd student hold for failure to pay the ‘$25/semester rec center bond repayment fee’ even though they live six hours away from campus! John

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