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Closing a Continuing Education Unit: The Do’s and Don’ts

Closing a Continuing Education Unit: The Do’s and Don’ts
Ending a CE program is never easy, but here are some best practices institutions should keep in mind to mitigate its impact.

Change: the only constant in life. A previous university president, also a biochemist, said, “If an organism isn’t changing, it’s dead.” Trying to avoid becoming a dead continuing education (CE) unit requires constant change and update to the programs, along with other significant factors, but there are times closing a CE program can be a logical decision.

Yet, how to do you close a CE program? There is precious little literature or documentation on the process. This could be out of embarrassment on the parts of CE leaders and the institution, or a lack of desire to document what might be considered a failure.

I’ve been through the closure of a CE program and have nearly first-hand experience of another program closure. Here’s what happened in the second closure, as the first one was not handled in a manner worthy of repetition:

  • Staff were notified of the closure at the end of the week in an all-hands meeting.
  • The website and phone numbers were forwarded to those of the main institution.
  • No new enrollments were accepted and existing programs ended as scheduled.
  • The offices were repurposed by the main institution for other uses (in this case, a new academic unit, which created confusion for former CE students for years to come when they walked into the building).
  • Records were selectively stored; most unofficial documents were shredded.

Throughout the events above, which took a little more than a typical semester, the staff left to a variety of university and non-university jobs, both in the community and out of the area. Ironically, after a campus leadership change a few years later, a new unit was launched under a slightly different name to offer the same service of CE and was housed in a newly-built building on the fringe of campus. A handful of staff returned to the new program.

If closure is deemed the best course of action, what’s the best process to take? I would suggest the following for a non-credit program:

  • Notify staff in a face-to-face meeting (don’t be Radio Shack, which laid off staff via email in 2006)
  • Cease all marketing, and schedule a time in the future (perhaps 90 days) to cease accepting new enrollments, use up any existing credits, etc. Post notes on the website, phone greetings and so forth about the closure and program end dates.
  • Wrap up existing programs
  • Make accommodations for records and program files access in the event the CE program is restarted in the future. Keep a sample copy of brochures, marketing, operational, payroll and other relevant documents.
  • Explain why the program is closing. Humans are innately curious and we want to know why something happened. Have a clear, consistent explanation for the closure. As well, have a venting forum (email address) where upset stakeholders can share their comments or concerns. These steps help to mitigate any feelings of ill will.

The biggest topic included in the above are the staff. Each institution and program has differing processes and philosophies for dealing with staff layoffs. The overarching rule is simple: be kind and patient. Some staff will be able to quickly leave for new positions while others might need assistance. No-cost attendance in CE offerings (if not already offered) would be a good starting point for retraining. Resume writing, counseling and flex-time while looking for new positions would also be appreciated. In sum, offer at least the basics. Expand from there to take care of the people who ran the program.

These are just some ideas, but I’ve left some topics of concern out. How would you close a CE program? How would you want the closure of your program handled?

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