Benefits and Challenges in Partnerships between Continuing Education and FacultiesMichelle Fach | Director of Open Learning and Educational Support, University of Guelph
Many centralized continuing education (CE) departments extend the teaching and research expertise of their respective institutions through unique program offerings that serve to attract new and diverse audiences. This outreach is important to institutions in that it can serve as an important component of the larger institution’s recruitment strategy, it generates revenue, and it creates a rich teaching and learning environment and student experience.
To achieve this mandate, CE departments must foster and maintain effective strategic partnerships with departments and faculty.
With a focus on the adult learning population, CE departments have expertise in designing and developing programs that are relevant to non-traditional audiences. By leveraging the disciplinary strengths of the faculty with the adult learning/entrepreneurial expertise of the CE department, CE leaders can ensure that their program offerings will be attractive and relevant to external markets. This will be increasingly important as institutions face a decline in the traditional 18-to-22-year-old student population.
Strong partnerships between academic departments/faculty and CE departments offer many benefits to institutions. Building collaborative programs can increase institutional brand awareness, global outreach, and the ability to attract students from diverse backgrounds and geographic regions. CE programs promote academic research, generate new revenues for the institution, and increase alumni engagement. Important connections between industry and academic departments/faculty can be facilitated through the CE department. Through partnerships with CE divisions, faculty have opportunities to engage with diverse types of learners, enhance their teaching practices, and explore different pedagogies.
It is important to note, however, that it is not only the institution that benefits from strategic partnerships between the academic department/faculty and the CE department; students also reap the rewards. Collaborations with faculties provide non-traditional students with opportunities to interact with faculty, learn more about faculty research, learn from disciplinary experts, and interact in an academic environment. For some students, this may be the first time they have had the opportunity to engage in postsecondary education, which can be a personally and professionally rewarding experience.
While all parties are well-intentioned to enhance the lives of our communities through lifelong learning, some barriers can prevent the establishment of successful partnerships between academic departments/faculties and CE. These barriers include a misalignment of expectations and motivations. If both parties don’t share a common vision for the program, challenges in the partnership will eventually impact its potential success. If the value of the activity or outcome is not aligned with expectations, either party could become disengaged. There is a significant amount of work that goes into launching a CE program, but this work is oftentimes not visible; therefore, it is important to have well established communication channels to ensure that there is an awareness of the work that is going into supporting the success of the program.
The value of working collaboratively with the CE department may not be widely known across the campus, so it is incumbent upon CE departments to make academic departments/faculty aware of the benefits of working collaboratively and structuring the partnership so that there are clear, tangible benefits. Structuring the partnership so that faculty can focus on contributing disciplinary and teaching expertise, without having to consider logistics and other administrative responsibilities, ensures that the partnership leverages expertise appropriately. This structure also ensures that academic departments are not asked to take on additional administrative responsibilities. It is also critical to ensure that there is an appropriate financial model in place—one that provides a return on investment. Other ways to incentivize participation include providing teaching awards, recognizing the teaching as part of the tenure and promotion process, and making it part of the distribution of effort.
Strategic partnerships between CE departments and academic departments/faculty provide enormous institutional value. The key to success lies in ensuring that the expectations of both parties are understood, that there is good communication, and that both parties benefit from the partnership.
Author Perspective: Administrator