Continuing Education Departments: A Portal to the Greater UniversityAmy Wartham | Director of Corporate Training, UNC Charlotte
As more and more workers seek credentialing and reskilling opportunities to keep up with the ever-increasing pace of change in their profession, university continuing education programs offer a way to enhance their employability and career advancement potential.
In fact, some experts believe that continuing education provides benefits that go far beyond an advantage in the workplace. In some cases, these experts believe that continuing education helps workers clarify and understand their professions and purposes on a deeper level. Due to the experiential nature of continuing education programs—the combination of theoretical and practical, hands-on application—it improves collaboration, problem-solving and other necessary skills while establishing and setting standards for certain industries.
Put simply, continuing education is important for a variety of professions and is an excellent means to develop the talent pipeline for America’s workforce. Continuing education helps set professionals apart from others, provides a learning experience that replicates what’s experienced in the “real world” and for some individuals can help them broaden their skillset or fine-tune their skills. When looking for a way to get ahead, continuing education is often an excellent starting point.
In 2014, President Obama allocated $450 million to promote continuing education and workforce development. This investment reflects a broader need to serve the rapidly growing U.S. market for non-traditional education.
“Together with our partners and stakeholders, we’re carrying out the vision of revitalizing and transforming the public workforce system to reflect the realities of the 21st century economy,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. “Today, we have a stronger foundation to connect Americans of all walks of life to in-demand careers and ensure that businesses have access to the skilled talent that will help grow their business and the U.S. economy.”
With this increased funding available, higher education institutions have an opportunity before them. Those that put the right systems in place to capture and serve this market stand to increase revenue and further their mission to provide valuable, targeted learning. This growing constituency of adult learners, eager to acquire new skills through new programs, clearly gives higher education institutions an unparalleled freedom to innovate. It’s up to American universities to seize this initiative and invest accordingly in the efforts of their continuing education departments. What’s important to keep in mind, is that Continuing Education departments offer an entry point to the business community and provide exposure to the university as a whole by extending the knowledge and research created at a university to audiences that would otherwise not benefit from it.
In other words, Continuing Education departments help remind the public of the value they bring to higher education by traversing the campus walls and extending the resources of the university to wide arrays of audiences.
One such example can be seen at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte – Office of Continuing Education with their MPA Management Academy. This professional development certificate program is intended for supervisors and high-potential staff working in the government and nonprofit sectors. The focus during the three-day program is on key skills needed for management success in the unique environment of government and/or nonprofit and integrates concepts provided by Master of Public Administration (MPA) faculty from UNC Charlotte with practical knowledge and experience from local community leaders. This program has acted as a springboard for some individuals to go on and seek out a master’s degree in public administration, but more importantly, it has led to several opportunities for faculty members to become involved in valuable community-based projects.
In many ways, Continuing Education departments can be likened to the cog in a wheel by making the appropriate connections between university resources and the business community. Here are a few university resources that continuing education may be called upon to provide a bridge between industry and academia:
- Economic Development: Many universities have centers that provide consulting and workshops for startups and existing businesses in the areas of feasibility studies, market research, business plan development, loan packaging, etc. Many of these services are free. What an excellent resource for organizations.
- Thought-Leaders: Seeking expertise can transform business challenges into new opportunities. By enlisting the assistance of university researchers and faculty as consultants, they can provide a variety of viable solutions in a wide range of fields.
- Sponsoring New Research: Universities now make it easier than ever for businesses to sponsor university research and gain immediate access to the intellectual property that arises. Sharing research materials and data between the business community and academia can fuel new discoveries. University researchers have a history of producing meaningful research that translates to direct, real-world benefits.
- Using Specialized Research Facilities: Many universities are equipped with comprehensive, state-of-the-art facilities and labs that provide services, expertise, and instruments for high-quality research. Some labs are specific to their supporting groups and most are available on a fee-for-service basis to anyone.
- Recruiting Students and Alumni: The university can provide an excellent opportunity for recruitment and interaction. Somewhere in that group of university scholars is your organization’s next intern, volunteer, full-time employee or freelancer.
Trying to maneuver through a university system and connect with the right individuals and departments can be daunting and overwhelming for some businesses. As an ambassador (of sorts), continuing education acts as a portal into the larger university and can alleviate the frustration of becoming familiar with the vast resources that a university has to offer. Continuing education provides a positive influence on a university’s ability to integrate itself into the business community and plays a vital role with the development of the local workforce.
Author Perspective: Administrator