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Managing CE Operations at Public and Private Institutions

The EvoLLLution | Managing CE Operations at Public and Private Institutions
While CE units share many similarities, their fundamental differences come down to the unique nature of their parent institution—not whether they’re public or private.
On the surface, Brandman University and UC Irvine share few similarities: One is a private non-profit specifically aimed at working adults, and the other is a public research university within a broad university network. Through their continuing education divisions, however, both institutions share a commitment to their non-traditional students in many surprisingly similar ways.

In this interview, Gary Matkin (UC Irvine) and Nancy Salzman (Brandman) discuss the similarities and differences in running CE units at public and private institutions, and argue that the fundamental differences in CE units have less to do with their institutional models than with their institutional identities.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): What are the missions of your respective divisions?

Nancy Salzman (NS): At Brandman University’s School of Extended Education, our mission is to provide pathways to degrees and alternative credentials that are aligned with workforce needs. As part of our mission, we also support organizations and individuals with career-focused services, training and educational opportunities.

Gary Matkin (GM): At UC Irvine, our mission is to provide a 60-year curriculum that helps learners with life transitions: from school to work, job to job, career to career, and work to retirement. We do this by providing high-quality educational pathways and services, which are related to careers and workplace readiness for our constituency students, the local economy and the campus.

NS: Our missions are very similar, but I don’t think we’re seeing the younger student demographic that you, Gary, are seeing at UC Irvine, since at Brandman our programming is tailored to meet the needs of working adults and adult students who are transitioning within or between careers.

GM: The other difference is that we generally do not provide pathways to degrees. Most of our students already have degrees, and 40 percent of them have more than one degree.

Evo: Where do your respective divisions sit within the broader institutional context of the university and how does that positioning impact your autonomy and programming choices?

GM: Last October, I was given responsibility for career services in addition to my role as Dean of Continuing Education. As Vice Provost for Career Pathways, I’m now responsible for our Career Services division, representing 36,000 students on our campus.

UC Irvine formed this alliance by thinking about our students in terms of the 60-year curriculum, which starts in the freshman year and goes all the way into retirement. That’s a really important part of our campus concept, and our organizational structure reflects that. To us, these are both “post-student” services. Career Services provides services to current students, with the intention of setting them up for success after they graduate. In Continuing Education, we serve students after they graduate. The third department that deals with students after graduation is, of course, UC Irvine’s Alumni Association.

This pairing of career services and continuing education is unique. I don’t think there’s another division similarly structured at any other university in the country. It’s very illustrative of the way that UC Irvine thinks about students after they graduate.

NS: At Brandman, our motto is “One University, One Student Experience.” We live that motto by integrating our curriculum into each individual school on campus.

The School of Extended Education is one of five schools within Brandman University. The leadership of each school describes their school’s relationship with the School of Extended Education as a partnership. Aside from providing standalone continuing education, Extended Education also works with the other schools to provide academic credit-bearing programs, where we deliver a credential that’s embedded within a degree that lives within one of the other schools.

In Extended Education, we bring new program ideas to the table and work with other schools to deliver those ideas. We share our services—including career services, marketing, military service and student support—with the rest of the university.

Students often don’t know if they are in a course, program or certificate that is being delivered by the School of Extended Education or by the School of Business and Professional Studies.

Evo: At UC Irvine, what did it take stitch together career services with CE? Prior to that, how connected was the Division of Continuing Education with the rest of the main campus?

GM: We have small interactions with most of the units on campus. The campus departments approve all of our certificate programs. In some cases, we have certificate programs where we jointly share revenue.

It’s a long story, but the union came out of that fact that campus administration understood that Career Services was becoming a much more important unit than it had been in the past.

When it’s situated within Student Services or the Division of Student Affairs, Career Services is usually inwardly focused. It’s often not culturally oriented toward employers and the external world. By contrast, Continuing Education has to be externally focused. As the university decided to expand and develop our career services offerings, it saw a natural union with our CE division, particularly because of the significant support services that we could bring.

Evo: Do you see yourselves as being a service provider to the rest of the institution, where you’re helping to make existing offerings more accessible to new audiences, or do you see yourselves as autonomous divisions charged with your own academic mission, faculties and approaches?

NS: We’re kind of both. Like I said before, we’re very integrated into the university, where we’re seen as a go-to for internal stakeholders and, with the knowledge we possess about our schools, as an expert resource for external stakeholders. We’re influencers within the system, because we’re a lot nimbler, more flexible and externally focused than our counterparts. At the same time, we are a self-supporting unit that’s expected to make a financial contribution to the university. That makes us a resource for the rest of the university.

GM: The University of California wants to be seen as academically elite, yet we’re a public land-grant institution, which means we have an obligation to the general public to provide education. These two aims sometimes come into conflict, and one of the ways that the university manages that is to have an extension operation that serves the public while being separate from the rest of the university.

For many, many years, those two roles were very distinct. Continuing Education was always a separate unit. Some people didn’t even think it was part of the university. But over the past 15 years or so, those roles have begun to merge, both in terms of the university’s perspective and in the public perception. Now, we’re much more integrated into the fabric of the university.

Evo: What are the steps that need to be taken to get a new program, credential, or offering from concept to reality?

NS: We have a documented system for taking an idea from concept to reality. All new program choices are data driven, whether it’s an academic credit-bearing or CE offering, or something that might serve both.

First of all, it’s a no-holds-barred process with respect to who comes up with ideas and puts them on the table. From there, we conduct a demand study and competitive analysis led by the University Institutional Research Team, which serves our school as well as the rest of the university.

Once we determine that the idea has merit, we move into program exploration, and then into our development process and resource requirements. These vary depending upon whether we’re developing academic credit-bearing or professional development/CE offerings, and whether we’re working with external or internal partners. We always engage our advisory board, which is comprised of members from across the university as well as external stakeholders. We always want to solicit input from subject matter experts and instructional designers. A program director is always on the advisory board. We also try to pull in faculty from corresponding disciplines, especially if it’s academic credit-bearing, so that we can rely on that school’s support later on.

Then, we discuss the program with the leadership team. It goes to our Dean’s Council, and then to a cross-functional university team that includes leadership from all the facets of the university’s operations: Student Services, Marketing, Outreach and Academic Affairs. Here, we’re looking at the offering from all angles so that everybody knows early on in the development process what road we’re going down. We value input from all university teams.

GM: Our process very much parallels Brandman’s, although in some cases our new program development is much less formally considered and reviewed than the process Nancy described. It depends on the size and scope of the program. We have six program planners who are responsible for developing new programs. Generally, we rely on them to understand the market.

If it’s a large program it has to go undergo a market research process. If it’s a smaller program, it doesn’t necessarily have to. Sometimes it’s less expensive to develop and market a program than it is to pay for market research. On larger programs, we have a formal business planning process that requires at least the Assistant Dean’s approval and the input of advisory boards. Advisory boards can inform us on the curriculum, the market, marketing, finding instructors, and all kinds of other things. The selection, monitoring, and nurturing of advisory boards is key to our development process.

Evo: When you are looking to build relationships with third parties, what kinds of considerations need to be made in establishing and maintaining these kinds of strategic relationships?

NS: We want to make sure that our vision, mission and values align with whoever we’re considering as a partner. We know that engaging a broad base of external partners can add incredible value to our university and students—content partners, software and other tool partners—but we need to make sure that they’re prepared to row in the same direction.

GM: In our case, one size does not fit all. As Nancy says, you’re talking about different kinds of partners. There are curriculum partners, such as Trilogy. There are vendors who come in with software or marketing services, and then there are those who come in to work for student services, like Inside Track. With each of these partners, you have to use different evaluation criteria.

With internal or external partners, there are always financial considerations that we need to take into account. We need to look at the positioning of the prospective partner in their community. Obviously, we’re looking for something that they can do better than we can in-house. It’s always a make-or-buy situation, and we don’t always have the capacity to add staff to our unit. Outsourcing with responsible service providers is essential to our business. The criteria are different for each kind of partner, but the return on investment is very important.

People often think that public universities have all kinds of purchasing aspects that are bureaucratic and hard to get through, whereas a private university might not have to jump though those same hoops. Frankly, if we know the rules and we’ve done our homework, we don’t have a lot of problems in getting the kinds of vendors we want.

NS: That’s the same for us. I can’t speak for every private non-profit, but we’re a very flat organization and we have quite a bit of autonomy in these choices. Our judgment is trusted in these matters. We’re cognizant of our core competencies, and so part of determining whether we should go outside or develop in-house abilities is, in large part, understanding our own strengths. From there, it’s knowing what makes sense for us to do versus whether we can find a prospective partner who is doing it at a level of ability that we couldn’t attain on our own.

Evo: Continuing on this idea of internal partnerships, how do you as CE leaders maintain positive and mutually beneficial relationships with your colleagues on the main campus over the long term?

GM: We try to create meaningful partnerships with individual units when we see that there’s a strategic reason for the partnership. There has to be a critical mass of faculty support within the prospective partner unit. If it’s just a single faculty member who’s eager to partner on a new offering, that’s not enough. That said, arrangements can be worked out as long as you have the general notion of support. When we build these partnerships, we focus on defining roles. What is your role, what is our role? What happens if somebody falls down? How are problems resolved? We set all this out in a memorandum of understanding, which that we are very careful about structuring.

NS: Internal relationships are built on trust and bringing value to the table. They have to be bigger than one individual to one individual, otherwise they won’t be sustainable. We also try and make things clear with internal partners though MOUs. What are the roles and responsibilities, and how are we all going to be accountable to each other? I try to make sure that it’s not just me who has the relationship with the internal partner, and I know Gary is very collaborative with his team, too. It should never be one person to one person.

When I took on my current role about 10 years ago, Chapman University College was becoming Brandman University. There had been an Extended Education unit at Chapman University, but it was a very separate, very small enterprise. It wasn’t accountable to the rest of campus. That’s just the way it was set up—it was no fault of theirs.

When it was decided that Brandman University was going to establish a School of Extended Education, the question we had to ask was: What’s it going to be? What’s the point of it? One of the first things that we did was sit down and write a policy paper that gave a vision of what it needed to be in order to be a valuable and valued member of the university community. That’s what we worked towards. That was probably our first MOU of roles and responsibilities.   

Evo: Do you think non-traditional students look at whether an institution is public or private, or non-profit or for-profit, when making decisions about where to pursue continuing and professional education?

GM: Most of the research that I’m familiar with says no. CE students concentrate on content, convenience, and quality. Is it the right program for what I want to do? Can I get to class, or can I take it online? What’s the institution’s overall reputation? The fourth consideration is price. If you go down that list, public or private does not appear except in the overlay of the institutional reputation.

NS: I would absolutely echo what you’re saying, Gary. Public or private doesn’t show up in anything that I’ve read either. What students care about is: is it the right program for me? What am I trying to accomplish, and is this going to help me accomplish it? Is it accessible, and is it convenient? It’s got to have the right modality that is going to fit into their lives. Quality is important, and then price. I think there is more questioning now with respect to non-profit versus for-profit, but maybe that’s a result of press over the last few years. We’re seeing a greater convergence in how non-traditional and traditional students are looking for and assessing higher education.

Evo: Do you find that students or colleagues have broad misconceptions about what each institution’s model means for the university itself?

GM: UC Irvine faces two big misconceptions. First, there’s the external misconception that, because of our name–the University of California–we’re too “ivory tower” and therefore not focused on practical education. Our whole focus is on practical knowledge that’s useful in a workplace, but we suffer from the notion that we’re not going to provide relevant skills training. Internally, the big misconception is that we’re the money-makers, and that, somehow, money-making and quality don’t go together.

NS: As you know, my institution is old and new. Chapman has been around for more than 150 years but when Brandman was created to specifically meet the needs of working adults and adult students it took significant effort to educate the general public and even our industry peers on why an adult-centric institution is important. As a private, non-profit institution this is a different approach, and there are sometimes misconceptions among students about whether this approach can truly benefit them. We have 26 campuses throughout California and Washington, as well as a fully online campus, and we work very hard to reach potential students who could benefit from our programs.

Evo: Is there anything that you would like to add about the similarities and differences between CE at a public institution versus a private institution?

NS: There are as many models for continuing education as there are Extension, Extended Ed, and Continuing Education units. We all have a unique flavor, and that comes down to the university that we’re part of. It may also be as a result of each unit’s individual team members. Having been at UC Irvine for a couple of years, which is public, and then moving to Brandman, which is private, I’ve seen a lot of similarities among private and public models. It’s not about whether you call yourself public or private. It has to do with institutional personality.

GM: The overwhelming difference between CE units is whether or not they offer degrees. Some units, like Northwestern, are in the degree business. They offer part-time and online degrees. At UC Irvine, Continuing Education is not in the degree business, and many universities do not offer degrees in their extended operations. And so, that’s the biggest difference in terms of looking at CE units. As Nancy said, whether you’re public or private really doesn’t matter that much. It’s whether you offer degrees and have a faculty and the services that go along with degrees. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

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