Student-Centeredness and Continuing Education: An ImperativeGary Matkin | Dean of Continuing Education, Distance Learning and Summer Session, UC Irvine
Any revised institutional ranking system will include the notion of student centricity. The rise of the student centricity movement coincides with the growing idea that students (and their parents) are customers of the higher education industry. Students certainly have the ability, now more than ever, to “shop” for education and, in fact, a great preponderance of students who attain a degree have completed courses from more than two institutions. Today higher education institutions compete for the best students. Top-tier institutions are ranked partly on how selective they are, that is, how many highly qualified students they turn away. Increasingly the focus will turn from this input variable to metrics addressing outputs—how successful students are after graduation. Certainly the accrediting associations are seeking this change because all institutions are now required to define and create metrics to measure desired student outcomes. Third-party based metrics such as graduate school admission rates and employability are among the most logical outcome metrics.
The Logic of Continuing Education and Rankings
This shift toward outcome metrics will increase the need for university-based continuing education. The logic is that after graduation the success of graduates will depend on their continued health, financial and social well being. And those elements in turn will depend on their ability to continue their education toward their goals after graduation. Institutions that care for and attend to these continuing needs will see their competitiveness increase and their ranking rise. There is a selectivity circle that develops. Those institutions that gain a reputation for meeting the needs of its graduate students will be able to attract exactly those who are already disposed to thinking of their future beyond graduation.
The Lifecycle of Continuing Education
So what are the implications for institutions of higher education? Universities and colleges will have to develop a 60-year curriculum rather than the traditional four-year curriculum. This more expanded thinking needs to encompass the life passages of graduates. Immediately upon graduation, students want to enter graduate school or the workforce. So the logical curriculum in this life phase concentrates on those goals—helping students to increase their competitiveness for graduate school and preparing students with the skills and abilities to be successful in their careers and jobs. The marketplace looks for graduates that have the knowledge gained from their undergraduate experience and, importantly, the ability to apply that knowledge to advance organizational goals. It also looks for skills that help graduates work on teams, understand the basics of business, and manage their time and the time of others effectively.
Later, graduates will often look at changing careers or upgrading their skills in their chosen jobs. As an example, engineering graduates may find opportunities for advancement in management or marketing. Certificate programs or advanced degrees in these fields may be what they want and need. Others staying in the same career positions may need to understand the use and impact of technology on their industry and jobs.
Then, later in life, programs for retirement-age students are in order. Such programs may concentrate on learning as a leisure activity but may also encompass the desire by retirees to adopt new careers or extend a hobby into new realms. Starting and managing non-profit enterprises, managing wealth and charitable interests, or advancing knowledge in a hobby are frequent components of retirement programs offered by universities.
Change Is On Its Way
Many universities have already built these components into their continuing education and extension offerings. Institutions need to tie continuing education to the rankings system by formally adopting the 60-year curriculum concept into the very basic appeal of the university to incoming students. This has not happened yet. However, there are signs that change in on its way. In many cases, the continuing education division is forming partnerships with alumni associations to coordinate the institutional message of concern for the student after graduation. Online education has allowed institutions to reach graduates wherever they are. And institutions are beginning to enhance their career service provisions for students that then extend past graduation.
The movement to revise university ranking systems, the increasing consumerism characterizing higher education, and concerns over the cost and effectiveness of higher education have focused attention on the student and “student-centeredness.” Student-centeredness is rooted in a concern for the learning outcomes that students gain from their formal education. Increasingly those outcomes will depend on the effectiveness of the continuing education system that serves students after graduation. For many institutions, graduates already know about the 60-year curriculum, including the courses and programs that are already being offered by the institution. What is called for now is an institutional awareness of that same continuing education provision. Student centricity may be the pathway toward that recognition.
Author Perspective: Administrator