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Continuing Education Leaders: A Seat on the Executive Team

The EvoLLLution | Continuing Education Leaders: A Seat on the Executive Team
Creating more senior leadership opportunities for continuing education leaders will spell significant benefits across a range of areas for the entire institution, as the core elements of CE’s DNA are increasingly important for today’s main campus colleges and universities.

Most Continuing Education (CE) leaders report to the Provost/Academic Vice President and may serve as members of the President’s Council/Cabinet. But few CE leaders are members of the Executive Leadership Team.

As traditional undergraduate student enrollment continues to decline at many colleges and universities, and non-traditional students are an increasing part of the educational landscape, key decision makers could benefit by inviting experienced CE leaders to be part of the executive team. Skilled CE leaders understand both the academic and business components of higher education. They are innovative educational entrepreneurs, committed to academic quality and integrity, who successfully manage CE operations through cycles of enrollment fluctuations.

Often tasked with a multitude of responsibilities that resemble the role of a small college president, CE leaders are familiar with all aspects of higher education administration and understand institutional policies and practices from different perspectives. They develop and manage budgets; plan, implement and evaluate programs; adhere to accreditation standards; assess and address the needs of students; hire and evaluate faculty; initiate marketing and recruitment strategies; network and collaborate with businesses, organizations, and public and non-profit institutions; implement innovative programming and delivery models; manage facilities; work closely with other offices at the college; and contribute substantially to the coffers of the institution. With experience in so many different areas, CE leaders can add a unique perspective to the executive team.

Here are four particular ways the CE leader can help:

1. Environment:

CE leaders understand that, for adult learners, a successful academic environment in higher education depends on many factors, including instruction, program quality, academic support and advising, financial aid, flexible course scheduling, guaranteeing that courses run as scheduled, and teachers who care deeply about their students’ success and know how to teach adult students. They realize the sacrifices many adult students make in continuing their education. CE leaders are passionate about students, especially adult students who do not follow the traditional linear path in education.

There’s a bit of the iconoclast in highly effective CE leaders. Frustrated with bureaucratic barriers that students encounter in pursuit of their educational and career goals, CE leaders aim to tear down impediments that prevent people from gaining access to higher education and improving the quality of their lives. Sometimes this means that CE leaders intentionally take actions contrary to institutional policies that simply don’t make sense. CE leaders can share with the executive team the institutional obstacles that students encounter at our schools and the unnecessary hurdles students face in simply trying to continue their education.

2. Responsiveness:

The increasingly competitive nature of higher education makes it imperative for institutions to expedite the development of new, high-quality programs that are in demand. CE leaders are trained to respond quickly to develop and implement new programs. Their experiences in conducting need assessments, focus groups, market analyses, program planning, and preparing and monitoring budgets are essential components of program development and implementation.

Before committing resources to it, effective CE leaders have a good sense of whether a new program will be successful because they have analyzed the data and communicated with stakeholders. The business model of CE provides opportunities to pilot new initiatives while limiting the financial risk. The speed with which CE leaders can develop new programs is often in direct contrast to the traditional, methodical approach of approving new programs through college governance where process takes precedence. By bringing CE leaders into the executive team, the institution benefits from their programmatic expertise.

3. Innovation:

Effective CE leaders are innovative and entrepreneurial; they must take risks, but calculate the extent of the risk before deciding to move forward. From developing online degrees to off-campus instructional locations, from accelerated degrees to summer programs, from badges and certificates to microcredentials, from conferences and professional development to community education, CE leaders are at the forefront of developing innovative responses to the needs of adult learners and employers.

The CE leader can encourage the executive team to consider new ways of thinking about educational programming and foster a greater openness to non-traditional modes of learning.

4. Expansion:

In many parts of the nation, the population of 18- to 24-year-olds will continue to decline for the remainder of this decade, while the population of those aged 25 and over grows. The future of education will likely reflect a lifelong learning model. After students have completed their undergraduate or graduate degrees at our institutions, we will want to continue serving them through a lifetime of continuing education opportunities. While this will require more resources for the Continuing Education Office, the long-term institutional benefits will be enormous as the relationship between the alumni and college remains focused on learning.

Opportunities for continuing education to serve aging baby boomers are likely to explode, especially since this population will have higher levels of education than prior cohorts and turn to educational activities in their leisure time. With brain research showing that cognitive development continues in older adulthood with physical and mental exercise, CE leaders can provide challenging, intellectual experiences for older adults. Since institutions of higher education will be serving more adults of all ages in the future, the expertise of the CE leader will be invaluable to the executive team.

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