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Continuing Education and College Credit Collaboration: Necessary for Success

By harmonizing their credit and non-credit arms, colleges and universities can provide higher quality learning opportunities to their students while improving internal efficiencies.

Community colleges, and institutions of higher education in general, run on relationships.  Within the complex matrix of organizational structures and operational systems, state and federal regulations, and institutional and program accreditation standards, it’s often the relationships that makes things happen.  The faculty member has a formalized relationship with the student through the course syllabus, which outlines expectations for both.  The college administration has a relationship with the faculty through formal committees and governance structures.  The greater college maintains formal relationships with the community at large through advisory committees, affiliation agreements and membership in community-based governing bodies.  Yet many of our colleges remain split between their college credit and continuing education (CE) divisions, with relationships between the two left to chance, individual personalities, and varying degrees of collaboration.  The lack of a formalized relationship structure between college credit and CE is a missed opportunity for both the college and the students it serves.  By intentionally creating a culture and infrastructure that supports and fosters relationships between these two divisions, the college can maximize its resources, offer more options and services to its students, and better respond to the ever-changing needs of the local community.

Strong effective relationships between credit-granting divisions and CE begin with an organizational culture that fosters their growth.  College credit supports a long-term focus for students, helping them build a foundation of knowledge and skills that will carry them forward into a career and/or on to a four-year degree.  CE divisions contribute to the short-term entrepreneurial efforts of the college, operating under less regulation, remaining responsive to the needs of the community, and providing students with options for expanding and retooling their knowledge and skills.  The college administration, from the President or Chancellor down to the program-level administrators, must be in agreement that college credit and CE divisions should work together as one college.  There needs to be an intentional focus on the common goal of serving students, and striving for effectiveness and efficiency throughout the institution.  Many colleges with successful credit/CE relationships have developed a “one-college one-student” culture.  The artificial operational divisions between college credit and CE should be invisible to the student.  All students, regardless of their enrollment status, should have the same access to all college resources (i.e. library, computer labs, student IDs, etc…).  Administration, staff, and faculty must move past seeing the CE student as something different, lesser, or separate from the college credit student.  The CE student should be held to the same academic rigor, provided with the same level of services, and afforded the same resources as the college credit student.

The “one-college one-student” culture can be developed and maintained through structural changes in the institution that formalize the relationships between college credit and CE.  The following are several examples of efforts that foster this collaboration.

  • Combine counseling and advising services to support both college credit and CE students.
  • Develop policies and procedures that allow for CE students to take college credit courses (i.e. CE students sitting in the same classroom with credit students), and allow for the conversion of CE contact hours to college credit hours at a later date when requested by the student.
  • Build shared room-scheduling systems to allow for both college credit and CE to utilize the same college facilities (i.e. classrooms, specialty labs, etc…) and maximize facility usage.
  • Create policies, salary structures, and effective tracking systems to incentivize the use of college credit faculty as CE instructors outside of their credit teaching assignments.
  • Create policies and processes that allow for the joint purchase and use of program equipment and materials.
  • Establish a method to allow for sharing of revenue between college credit and CE program budgets.
  • Use CE as the “testing ground” for new programming with a view to transitioning programs into college credit if appropriate.
  • Ensure that the process for developing and updating program curriculum allows for the sharing of curriculum between college credit and CE.
  • Develop education pathways that include both college credit and CE awards with multiple entry and exit points (i.e. stackable certificates en route to the associates degree and beyond).
  • Ensure that related college credit and CE programs are cross-marketed in the greater college’s promotional efforts.
  • Combine processes that manage the use of community resources such as shared clinical and internship placement sites, affiliation agreements, and guest lecturers.
  • Centralize and standardize the management of required compliance processes (i.e. clinical requirements such as immunizations, background checks, and other admissions requirements, etc…).
  • Ensure representation by both college credit and CE on key decision-making groups including:
    • Department/program leadership teams;
    • College-wide committees (curriculum, operations, etc.);
    • Strategic and institutional planning task forces;
    • Program and industry advisory committees;
    • Client meetings for planning of contract training projects;
    • External workforce/industry groups (i.e. local workforce committees);
    • Grant project development and implementation teams.

It is not enough to just want the college credit and CE divisions to work together within the college.  They need to be provided with the tools that foster collaboration, while maintaining and recognizing the unique contributions of both divisions.  While students may come to the college for a variety of reasons—completion of an associate’s degree, transferring credit to a four year institution, completion of a short-term entry-level program, expanding upon a specific skill, maintaining their licensure or certification, or retraining for a second career—their experience of, and the level of service received from, the college should not be dependent on their enrollment status as a college credit or CE student.  By creating the “one-college one-student” culture, and the infrastructure to support that culture, the college benefits from eliminating duplication, multiplying options for students, and realizing savings through efficiencies.  Successful relationships between college credit and CE divisions result in successful outcomes for students.

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