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Maximizing Continuing Education in a Time-Strapped World

With continuing education expanding like never before and demand for new programs growing, it’s important that units focus on strategic planning to ensure they’re delivering high-quality programming.

Continuing education (CE) units are often seen as the innovative hubs of the institution. They’re able to develop and scale programs quickly while meeting industry needs. But this work requires time and resources that these units often don’t have. In this interview, Michael Kurilla discusses the common constraints CE units face, the impact they have on the institution and trends he expects to see emerge.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): How have you seen time and resource constraints within the CE division change in recent years?

Michael Kurilla (MK): These constraints are changing for the better in some instances. There’s a central theme: If you have a strategic plan that maps out and includes CE, then you’ll do better. Plans that map out what you want to offer, the resources you need and how it’ll evolve will lessen those constraints.

Evo: What are some examples of these constraints?

MK: I’m on the noncredit side, and I see a couple of things happening. I see a bit of a disconnect between for-credit and noncredit. As a noncredit provider, I can bring an approved program to market within two weeks. However, time constraints and a lack of resources can limit program development. For example, I might not always have the staff on hand to get a program up and running in two weeks. Or other departments within the university that need to be involved aren’t on the same schedule as I am, which can hinder progress.

The other side of the coin is when someone wants a program developed quickly; for example, they want a certificate program delivered within two months. I’m developing two right now, but they won’t be ready for launch until September 2024 and February 2025. You really need time to make a quality program and to have the right people and resources in place to be successful. So, it’s about bridging the gap between for-credit and noncredit to understand how quickly a program can go to market and the time required to develop something of quality. It’s a double-edged sword.

Evo: What impact do these constraints have on the CE units specifically or the institution as a whole?

MK: When working with companies looking to create upskilling and reskilling opportunities, we have to deliver within their timeframe. If we can’t do that, then they’ll look elsewhere. That hurts higher ed and the university because you’re losing business.

With time and resource constraints on program development, you might not be able to develop something as high-quality as you want due to lack of staff and time. There are so many things that go into a program and people won’t buy something low-quality.

Evo: What are some best practices to overcome these challenges?

MK: For me, a strategic plan is key—not one that’s set in stone but that has your goals and objectives for the CE unit laid out. What are your revenue goals, the types of programs, projects, trainings etc. you want to offer? Once you have things planned out, look at the resources required and figure out if you have the funding. Identifying everything and putting a plan in place can lessen the common constraints people run into. But it’s important to really work with CE leaders to create this plan and identify what you want to do, what you need to do and how you’re going to get there.

Evo: Do you see any trends or changes that have influenced the way CE units operate?

MK: There’s more openness and willingness to overcome the time and the resource constraints, which we can attribute to adding staff, looking at our resources, identifying programs, and identifying goals and objectives. We’re seeing an increase in buy-in from higher ed leadership in with continuing education. That buy-in will help evolve and change how we develop and deliver programs. It’s a lot easier because, as more people buy-in, they’ll learn more about CE and what it does for the community, revenue, alumni and professionals.

Evo: How do you see time and resource constraints in CE evolving?

MK: It’s certainly changed for the better, especially as we’re seeing more buy-in. Some universities are doing CE on a part-time basis, but that’s likely to evolve to full-time and optimize staff and resources to maximize the opportunities ahead.

Evo: Is there anything you’d like to add?

MK: Overall, we’re in a good place. There’s improvement for everything that’s not perfect. Going forward, there will be a lot of improvement by resolving issues through planning and setting goals. That’s the direction we’re headed in.