Efficient Self-Management in Continuing Education
Continuing Education is known to be outside the box of higher education. Their programming doesn’t follow a typical semester schedule and varies in length. This means a traditional system cannot efficiently manage these programs. In this interview, Leonard Rivera discusses how CE has evolved recently, the importance of a tailored system and getting buy-in from leadership.
The EvoLLLution (Evo): How has the CE landscape evolved over the past few years?
Leonard Rivera (LR): Continuing Education was always looked at as providing the basket-weaving type of program offerings that colleges had. We’ve transformed ourselves into a lifelong learning and workforce development system. That in itself has transformed CE entirely. Decades ago, we didn’t offer programs dealing with upskilling or skilling individuals for employment in business and industry—there are so many fields out there now, and we cover them. It’s great to see so many colleges transforming in this new era of teaching people to be more mindful about career pathways.
Evo: Why is it important for CE divisions to break away from a main campus system to something more tailored to the division specifically?
LR: Having our own tailored system recognizes the complexities that CE has in place. And I say complexities in a good way—we’re much more dynamic than ever before. To say we need one system at the community college wouldn’t give full priority or reflect a full understanding of what CE is about and what it can do for the college.
Having a standalone system allows CE to be more dynamic in how they schedule classes, how a learner can register on the front end and how staff manage back-end operations. It allows colleges and administrators to retrieve information regarding a student’s track directory. We can track that data that state agencies and boards of higher ed are asking more of. It’s critical to have a tailored system for CE that produces outcomes and front-end experiences for our students.
Evo: What are some of the business challenges people face when trying to manage CE using a main campus or homegrown tech system?
LR: It’s apple and oranges. The differences in how we understand the business complexities of a homegrown system versus a standalone system for CE vary. We need to first understand that students today expect an Amazon experience. They want to look at a schedule online, pick the courses, put them in a basket and checkout.
It’s also important for someone to be available on standby for students to reach out to. Whether that’s by phone or chat. Most people want to ask questions without having to interact with someone. So, having a business understanding of how the customer is thinking and what they’re perceiving is key. It also sets the framework for what type of learning experience they’ll have. If the front-end business platform or service unit is poor and not user-friendly, then the person will perceive the college to be lackluster.
Evo: How do you get buy-in from senior leadership for CE to own and manage their own programming with their own system?
LR: It all comes down to production outcomes. I’ve been at my institution for 25 years, and in this capacity of CE, we weren’t really as workforce savvy as we are now. We were more about arts and crafts and lifelong learning pursuits—which is good. Lifelong learning is key, but the type of mission guiding our work now is different.
We must be business-minded. Senior leadership wants to see outcomes and production. Providing those outcomes and production to them will help captivate them to understand what CE can do for their bottom line. When it comes to enrollment and revenue generation, we’ve realized gains in our CE enrollment compared to the credit side. We’ve become an area that has helped equalize the college’s overall enrollment.
As it stands, our college is in the top 5 of CE production and enrollment growth across the state of Texas. We’ve been able to sustain growth and funding. That’s got the attention of senior leadership, which comes back to outcomes and production.
Evo: What impact can a CE system have on the learner experience?
LR: It all comes down to perspectives. The experience a learner expects is critical to their overall perception of the school. If the front-end experience is unorganized and learners are stumbling around to find information, then it’s going to reflect negatively on the institution.
It’s about making our system more dynamic. Registration must be a good experience—it needs to be efficient and effective for students. We also want to give them some control over their destiny, allowing them to manage their own account in a way a homegrown system doesn’t. Being able to access their transcripts, licenses and credentials really enhances that experience.
From a back-end experience, the admin’s side needs to be able to track data that enriches the learner experience. We’re going to need to know the students we serve are getting jobs. Our curriculum must be aligned with industry needs and that’s critical to know on the administrator’s side. Back-end data are very important for marketability and overall perception of what is to come as far as learning.
Evo: Is there anything you’d like to add about having a CE-specific system or where you see CE going?
LR: CE is on an upward track directory. There’s movement toward filling employment gaps and getting folks the skills they need to be operational in their jobs. We must invite our employers into the conversation and have them provide feedback on how we arrange and set up courses to meet their needs.
Continuing Education will be there to meet their needs. It allows industry to gear up in the shortest amount of time. We can turn on a dime and get a student in and out the door in a matter of weeks with a skill set that makes them employable. At the end of the day, we must meet both student and industry needs.
Author Perspective: Administrator