Published on 2013/10/02

Four Characteristics of Continuing Education's Role in Economic Transformation

Four Characteristics of Continuing Education's Role in Economic Transformation
CE units can place themselves at the center of regional economic development initiatives by adopting four simple characteristics.

Increasingly, the mandate of continuing education (CE) units at universities across the country is to play a role in transforming their local and regional economy. CE provides communities with access to high-quality information and educational resources designed to create a more knowledgeable and skilled workforce. Job readiness is now at the forefront of the majority of programs and services. Therefore, CE’s ability to transform lives and skill levels is a critical boost to a region’s talent pool, its competitiveness and, ultimately, the prosperity of our nation’s economy.

The future of our economic security is increasingly dependent on maintaining an educated, adaptable workforce. CE works to help students become better prepared to grow their knowledge base, adapt to changing work environments and succeed in a global environment. In light of these goals, what are the characteristics of a CE-supported economic development mandate?

1. Economic Information Source on New Jobs

The first role CE plays is as an information agent and broker of services that facilitate competitive business investment and job creation by informing the local population of current trends and data that underscore the jobs of the new economy. The CE unit can describe the local social and economic landscape and put changes into context. To make effective economic decisions, communities must understand how changes in the global, regional and national economies affect the opportunities they have. A CE program can provide this content, helping a community compare trends in income, employment, poverty, unemployment, labor force participation and other statistics with those of the region and of the nation.

2. Talent Development for New Jobs

A second role in economic development education is up-skilling the current workforce and increasing talent for the jobs coming down the pipeline. Understanding the sector and knowing where jobs will be in 10 years, and then creating a workforce that is ready to step into these jobs, is an essential component of a CE unit’s economic mandate. By creating courses and certificates that anticipate and meet the demands of future jobs, CE can act as a bridge to employment by developing students’ knowledge for new economy jobs. This will continually help attract corporations looking for the ever-important talent edge.

3. Listening Outpost in the Community

The CE unit must continually be a strategic planner engaging the community in the identification of future priorities and action plans to achieve them. The unit can be a source of innovative institutional ideas as well as a conduit for the analysis of local ideas, beliefs and needs. By asking the right questions and gaining social and economic knowledge in local policy decisions, CE can be critical in designing institutions that define social priorities and determine the outcomes of development efforts. As an advocate for the region, it can help by carefully listening to the community in order to develop a balanced approach to economic development that relies on community values, character and the environment.

4. Collaborator

CE can be a catalyst to motivate the public and private sectors to work together in achieving the area’s economic development goals and objectives. A collaborative economic development approach fosters outreach and education of local residents, creates momentum and gives the community a competitive edge both statewide and nationally. Working together collaboratively creates an investment-friendly environment. Thus, the CE professional fosters the development of partnerships with individuals and entities within the university and government, businesses and community development organizations.

In sum, the CE-supported economic development model is inclusionary, seeking broad-based community participation while building collaboration among organizations and institutions within and outside of the community. This approach builds public trust and capacity for increased knowledge and improved decision making by area leaders. Much of the social science literature on trust and governance supports building trust in local community organizations as a viable strategy for improving economic development. University involvement in economic development on the local level is the basic framework, in partnership with CE. CE provides county-based infrastructure and educator expertise to extend university resources on the county level. The CE-supported economic development model can be of great value to communities through increased participation in economic development and by fostering collaboration and leveraging financial and research-based university resources. The long-term goal is expanded community capacity and sustainable economic development for the region.

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Readers Comments

Heather Willis 2013/10/02 at 9:23 am

The most important role of a CE unit is to act as a bridge between institution and industry, and employer and employee (student). CE units have the unique ability to translate trends, needs and context because they work with so many different stakeholders. However, none of these stakeholder groups take full advantage of the CE unit as a resource. I could picture a CE representative having a position at the administrative level of an institution, making decisions for the broader university/college. I could just as easily see a CE representative at a community roundtable on economic development, sharing knowledge and ideas. I believe Shapiro is suggesting that we recognize this and give CE units a well-deserved seat at the table — at all of our tables.

    WA Anderson 2013/10/02 at 3:49 pm

    Well said!

    CE units indeed have the potential to fulfil the role Heather and Shapiro describe. I would argue that most institutions have yet to realize CE’s potential and have, thus, treated the unit as an add-on rather than as an integral part of their operations. The sooner this changes, the better for all parties involved.

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