State of Continuing Education 2022: How Continuing Ed Continues to Overcome Obstacles
Access to funding in Continuing Ed is a challenge that institutions across the United States and the rest of the world face. Finding ways to overcome these challenges, while finding a shared mission between CE and the main campus can lead to a better student experience overall.
The EvoLLLution (Evo): What are the key obstacles that leaders in this space encounter when it comes to accessing funding and resources to drive scale?
Sammi Morrill (SM): To access funding and resources, you must know your data. You can’t expect resources if you can’t show the data and the value your programs are bringing, not only to your organization but also the community you serve. So, if you’re going to ask for additional funding or resources, it’s imperative that you know what you’re bringing to the table. Whether this is right, wrong or indifferent, we must leverage external funding. That’s the situation we’re in, especially at community colleges. You must strategically align external funding to fill the gap in resources we may have. Finally, the third thing we’ve done over the last few years is outsourcing when needed.
If I need to scale, if I need to deliver something faster than I normally would, then I look for a vendor to help sprint and scale. We know how long it takes to get a resource in place. We know how long it takes to get staffing. But if you already have a relationship with a vendor who can fulfill those needs without slowing your delivery, then that’s an important piece to consider. So the reasons are threefold: know your data—not only enrollments but the ROI for those programs you’re delivering, know how to strategically leverage external funding, and know now to outsource certain components when needed.
Evo: How do you create that sense of understanding and of a shared mission between the work you and your team are doing on the CE side, and that of the main campus?
SM: We’ve had a unique experience over the last two years. We’re a community college situated in San Antonio, the most impoverished metropolitan city in the United States. Our moonshot, and that’s a moonshot across our institution, is to partner to end poverty through education and training. What that means is we have to look at the data. We have to look at our enrollments, our programs and the success rates of those we serve. How well are we delivering talent to the employers within our region, so we can drive economic change in our region? That’s a real conversation for us. Over the last two years, we’ve received funding from our city—more than $13 million for education and training—aligned with target occupations to drive economic recovery. What the data showed us was that individuals, even within our own academic programs, were dropping out of those programs to enroll in a Continuing Education program, so that they could get retrained and get a job faster. The short-term Continuing Education program included outreach, eligibility, training, career services and placement. So, we’re coming to the table with our academic programs and showing how we can strengthen career pathways, with the ultimate goal of meeting that moonshot. We’re showing them the data—how many students are going through a Continuing Education program that aligns with your academic program, that aligns with the talent needs in our community. This demonstrates an enrollment strategy for the academic side. Now, that’s a win-win. If I have them coming out of this program, and we’re matriculating credit from Continuing Education into academic credit, then now I’m talking about not only an enrollment strategy but also expanding access and opportunity. We just had a strategic team meeting yesterday about this, looking at the talent needs of our region and how many we were graduating within each of the instructional programs and standard occupation codes. That not only opened a lot of eyes, but it also worked to bring us together on a new strategy.
Evo: How do you determine success when it comes to the outcomes of an upskilling- or reskilling-based offering?
SM: Compliance-wise, because we do upskilling and reskilling through grant programs, it’s about retention and wage gain. And that is the reality of what success should be for our programs. If I’m partnering with an employer and I’m delivering an upskilling or reskilling program, that’s internal to them. I should be able to see the retention impact and a wage increase. For entry-level programs, that means employment in the aligned occupation and self- or family-sustaining wages. The next piece we’re adding to our metrics is after they’ve been employed. Most people’s career pathways are not linear. They’re going to hit a landing, hopefully employment, and return to you. So, what’s the matriculation rate to your academic programs or back to continuing education for a stackable credential? They come through a CE program, grant-funded, so they can complete it. We get them employed. How likely are they to come back to us to increase their education level?
We’ve narrowed our focus this year on healthcare and biosciences and information technology. Why? Because that’s where the talent needs are in our area. Based on our labor market needs, we’ve been bringing together employers through consortiums to talk about their talent needs, and we’ve been outwardly asking them who their training provider of choice is. Because if they don’t say your institution, then you’re not on their landscape. We need to be able to know how many of our graduates they are hiring. How involved are they in an advisory group? Do employers come to your job fairs? What do they think of the quality of the talent you deliver? We must get away from just enrollment and completion numbers. True success is employment, wage gain and meeting employers’ talent needs. That’s how we bring value to the economic and workforce ecosystem and the students we serve.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.