Gold in your Backyard: The Value of Continuing Education Units in Strategy Development

Gold in your Backyard: The Value of Continuing Education Units in Strategy Development
Given the innovative nature of continuing education (CE) units, institutions should be looking to their CE leaders to help move institution-wide online learning into the future.
Over the last few years, I’ve noticed a clear shift in how institutions are formulating their online education strategies. Traditional public and private institutions are increasingly centralizing strategic decision making related to online programs in their presidents’ and provosts’ offices, as opposed to allowing individual academic units to develop strategies on their own.

This shift, in itself, is not surprising. After all, there are economies of scale, scope and strategic alignment at stake. What strikes me as odd is many of these institutions have thriving continuing education (CE), professional studies and/or other post-traditional divisions (ones serving primarily non-first-time, non-full-time students), but aren’t bringing the leaders of these divisions to the online strategy discussion table.

Post-traditional units have long been recognized as the pioneering innovators of higher education. The identification of new markets, creation of cutting-edge programs and development of state-of-the-art engagement and teaching methods are but a few of their many contributions.

For decades, online education has thrived in institutional units focused on serving working adults.  University of Maryland University College, Penn State World Campus, Brandman University and Drexel University Online are just a few examples of pioneering online learning providers to emerge from traditional public and private universities. Nonetheless, it seems some institutions may be ignoring this treasure trove of expertise and knowledge as they begin to formulate their institution-wide approaches to online education.

Over the last year, at least a dozen prominent universities have created new vice president-level positions to oversee online learning. In some cases, the person selected to fill the role had prior experience operating an online learning division or institution. However, many did not. Moreover, I’ve spoken with a number of post-traditional program leaders who have expressed concern about their universities’ approaches to formulating an online learning strategy. Many are concerned these strategies are based largely on institutions’ experiences with traditional campus-based students taking individual online courses, and ignore insights derived from providing online degree programs and serving working adults.

Whatever the case may be, presidents and provosts would be wise to tap into the expertise of their post-traditional units on issues of innovation, technology and online learning behavior. They may discover they have online strategy gold sitting right in their backyard.

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Readers Comments

Melanie Khan 2013/12/04 at 11:24 am

Jarratt describes the same issues and frustrations I have heard from the CE administrators at my institution, who wonder why they aren’t more regularly consulted regarding the main institution’s online strategy.

The problem is that many institutions consider online to be an “add on” rather than a core programming requirement. Thus, rather than seeing online students as a new, untapped market with specific needs, and viewing online education delivery as a valuable investment, these institutions are happy to restrict themselves to serving students taking the occasional online course. Until these institutions’ perceptions change, they will not be able to develop viable, effective strategies for online education.

    Brian Bloom 2013/12/05 at 6:37 am

    I agree completely. CE units have traditionally operated quite independently from the main institution, and it’s difficult to break down those silos to allow for better idea sharing. The first step might simply be to make the main institution aware of initiatives their CE unit is undertaking and outcomes. If CE units can show their successes and online acumen in dollar figures, increased enrolments or some other hard measurement, perhaps administrators would be more willing to include them in decision making.

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