Staying on Top of Trends Central to CE’s Innovative CultureGayla Marie Stoner | Vice Provost and Dean of Online and Innovative Educational Initiatives, Northern Arizona University
The following interview is with Gayla Marie Stoner, director of the extended campus at Southern Illinois University. At the recent University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) Central conference, Stoner shared her thoughts on the opportunities presented to continuing higher education leaders in the modern era, and some of the strategies needed to capitalize on these changes. In this interview, she expands on those ideas.
1. Why is it critical for continuing education leaders to be constantly on the lookout for new marketplaces to enter and new opportunities to exploit?
Continuing education leaders and the units they serve have become experts for identifying new marketplaces over the years. We recognize that higher ed is changing and we all know that technological enhancements have enabled more access for learners. In addition, there are more cost effective abilities to serve students in a cheaper manner.
We know there’s much more competition and offerings for students—the students need to know about the value whenever they’re looking at the different degree options, as well as the importance of accreditation and what they’re actually going to do with their degrees. Continuing education leaders have been the experts of this type of decision making and creation of new markets over the years and now they have really been able to bring that knowledge to the forefront.
2. From your vantage point, what are some of the most promising emerging opportunities that CE leaders should be seriously looking at?
Partnerships: Establishing units that can serve and also act as liaisons between the institution, faculty and outside agencies such as industries and corporations. That’s an emerging opportunity that’s hitting continuing education—making sure that we are not only serving adults, which has sort of been the traditional role of continuing ed, but all learners including youth all the way through retirement, lifelong learners and those participating in professional development. It’s our role to serve as a support liaison to make sure that happens
3. What are some of the changes that led to the emergence of those partnership opportunities?
We have found the need to operate in different manners; the traditional delivery system to meet students’ needs is much different than it was even 5 to 10 years ago. It’s challenging to know what those needs are.
There’s so much competition for the traditional type of degree programs. It’s time that we have interdisciplinary opportunities for students—areas which have most definitely been tapped into most recently by continuing education—and make sure that we know what the workforce needs are for our students. The only way we can know that is by working with those that are employing those students: The industries, the corporations and professional organizations as well. [We need to] bring to the table the faculty who are subject matter experts and make sure that we have high quality content that is being delivered to those students. Bringing that together in a holistic manner and having everyone at the table for that student is key.
In the past, there was a different approach to continuing ed students but now the doors have been opened, partly because of technology and partly because the competition is much different than it used to be. It’s our role as higher education leaders to make sure that we are educating the students and the faculty members on the current workforce. Ultimately that will enable the student to become a global competitor in the workforce as well within their career.
4. What are a few of the biggest roadblocks that stand in the way of being able to quickly recognize, react to and exploit new market opportunities?
Number one is the declining fiscal budgets. We are finding the need to create new revenue streams; that’s true for public as well as private institutions. In addition, it is very challenging to ensure that we are staying on top of what our students’ needs are for today. For example, we can look through the Bureau of Labor Statistics to determine what are the positions that are [becoming available] and what are the trends. The way technology is changing means that there are new careers coming out all the time and new trends coming out all the time, and if we are not on top of that, we’re not serving students and we ultimately are going to have a poor quality programming and outreach to our students.
5. Is there anything you’d like to add about the value of partnerships to today’s universities and how they can really help universities position themselves to remain viable and relevant to their local communities in the future?
We have to become the friendly exploratory area to our community and partners. They need to know that they can approach the institutions to fill their needs in a very student-friendly, partnership-friendly manner. We also have to create the exploratory environment for faculty members to also be able to work outside of the traditional mode of delivery whenever they believe that it is due. If a faculty member would want to explore a relationship with an alumni association or with a community partner, we can provide them the ground to explore that opportunity through continuing ed.
Educating our institution as well as the partners that this is something we can make happen is extremely important. I’m very sure that most partners or potential partners are not aware of the opportunity and even what the purpose is of continuing ed.
This interview has been edited for length.
Author Perspective: Administrator