Published on 2016/08/31

Finding a Seat at the Table: Continuing Education in the Modern Postsecondary Organization (Part 2)

The EvoLLLution | Finding a Seat at the Table: Continuing Education in the Modern Postsecondary Organization (Part 2)
Becoming citizens of the university is the first and most critical step continuing education leaders need to take to ensure their divisions grow their role on campus.

Continuing Education (CE) divisions have long been seen as an addendum to the core higher education institution—a cash cow with little connection to the main campus. As the recipe for success in the postsecondary space evolves, however, so too has the role of CE. After all, today’s institutions need to be responsive to student and labor market demands. They need to compete to attract learners and work hard to retain them. These were never considered to be important to the traditional institution, but have always been the bread-and-butter of a strong CE organization. In this interview, the second of two parts, James Broomall reflects on the role CE divisions are playing in today’s higher education institutions and shares some insights into what CE leaders need to do to maintain their seat at the table.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): When you think about the different models of institutions that there are out there, and how does the role of continuing education differ at research and non-research universities?

James Broomall (JB): The institutional mission, vision and, most importantly, the institution’s aspiration, all have a bearing on how you position your continuing education unit.

For example, if you’re a research university and your goals are to increase prestige, increase status, and to generate external resources, continuing education has to shift to serve those goals. For example, research dissemination is a critical component of many grants and, as such, is prioritized by research institutions. So a continuing education unit might take the research produced by a particular faculty and run short courses where we apply that knowledge.

On the other hand, at an institution that’s very dependent on tuition revenue to grow, continuing education has a different charge. The focus must be on generating revenue and bringing in enrollments.

Before I came to Delaware I was a dean at a community college, and at that time the continuing education operation counted for about 22 percent of the college’s revenue. In that instance, our role was to generate revenue and grow enrollments. Here, however, our mission is to contribute to the colleges and add value to their missions. The role of CE really does vary, even across different kinds of research universities.

The second big difference is a nuanced one, but it makes a huge difference. Are you a school of continuing education, or a college of continuing education? In other words, do you grant your own degrees or not? That difference is critical—we do not grant degrees here so, since we don’t grant our own degrees, we are really dependent on the seven colleges to facilitate the delivery of degree programs while we focus on the growth of our own non-degree professional education programming.

Finally, there’s a split along the lines of public and private universities. Some private universities—even those that are research universities—are much more tuition dependent. Therefore, the mission in continuing education at those institutions is to generate tuition dollars.

These issues are often overlooked in discussions around what it takes to be an effective continuing education leader. A lot of it depends on your institution’s location, model, focus, mission and design.

Evo: How would you suggest CE leaders work to overcome these obstacles?

JB: There are a few things CE leaders need to do to overcome these obstacles and become more involved in the transformation of the main campus institution. To start, we need to become involved in the broader campus conversations. It’s as simple as going to public events—whether they be public lectures or whether they be theater events—and become more visible as a member of the university community.

Second, we must demonstrate our value as university citizens. You have to do things for departments or for colleges that maybe are not inherently revenue producers, and might even cost you some revenue. These activities show that you’re part of the broader institution—that you’re a citizen of this university.

Third, it’s critical to try to get involved in more university-wide committees, work groups and interdisciplinary initiatives. Try to build those strategic relationships across the disciplinary boundaries. That’s something we’ve been pretty successful at here because we do work with all seven colleges, so every college is involved with us in varying ways. We’re able to build those relationships, build those alliances and build those strategies. Maybe go to faculty meetings, if they have open meetings, and do the really basic stuff like read your university’s daily newsletter. At the core here, is CE leaders need to see themselves as more than just “continuing education.” My philosophy has always been, you always put the university first and continuing education second.

Fourth, frankly, is to just get over it. Get over the sense of second class citizenship, the desire to constantly try to prove ourselves. I’ve been doing this for a long time and that’s always been the debate since I first started doing it. Are we core or are we peripheral? Are we marginalized or are we respected? If you get into that mindset, you’re going into a trap. What we do is not marginal—what we do is very important and, though it might not be recognized on campus as much as we’d like, it’s a feeling everyone on campus has. My friends in the history department feel that they’re not recognized as much as the science department, and sciences feel they’re not as recognized as much as the football team. There’s always this thing where everybody thinks somebody else is getting more respect, and we need to go beyond that. In spite of our successes we sometimes get sucked back into this inferiority complex, this disappointment of being on the periphery of the institution. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get stuff done, it just means you’re at the point where the external and the internal meet.

We probably have a long way to go in terms of becoming really engaged citizens of the university, but recently we’ve seen more and more continuing education leaders getting institutional leadership roles. We’ve even had some in our field go on to college and university presidencies—more in the last 10 years than I saw in the first 20 years of my career. So we must be making some strides in the right direction.

Evo: Is there anything you’d like to add about the role continuing education can play in the transformation of university main campuses?

JB: Actually, I’m currently engaged in work that really helps to illuminate this changing role. We are currently dealing with a third-party enabler to launch a bunch of online programming at Delaware, and trying to see the difference between what they do and what we can do in house. CE is leading that effort because our job is really to be the boundary spanner, finding common ground between and connecting the university and the corporation. We’ve helped to navigate some significant issues, especially with respect to determining accountability and measuring quality. Basically, we’re helping to establish a bridge that is helping the university innovate and transform.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Click here to see the first instalment.

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Key Takeaways

  • CE leaders need to ensure the mission and vision of their organizations align with that of the main campus institution so they’re constantly contributing.
  • CE leaders and staff have to work harder to become more active and integrated members of the university community—this will help to make the value CE brings more apparent.
  • The desire to compare “respect” against other parts of the institution is natural, but CE leaders need to resist the urge if they are to grow and integrate.