Published on 2014/06/02

Lessons from the Frontier: How Main Campus Can Learn from CE

Lessons from the Frontier: How Main Campus Can Learn from CE
Following the example set by continuing education leaders could help main campus administrators better respond to market fluctuations across the post-secondary space.
Most educators would agree that higher education is under a lot of pressure today. Pressure from regulators, pressure from balance sheets and pressure from changes in consumer behavior.

The list goes on.

While there are no magic potions to relieve the stress, there are resources available to help meet these challenges, and some of them are close to home. Continuing education (CE) units constitute a type of educational frontier that has learned to thrive on challenges. Educational frontier life has adapted to stress through structural reorganization animated by a set of tough new priorities and values. The most important of these frontier adaptations are valuable lessons that main campus units should seriously consider in their own struggles.

It is with this the aim of passing on lessons learned that I humbly offer the following suggestions to the center:

1. Priorities and Values

I leave unanswered the question of what comes first: the value or the structural reorganization. Suffice it to say that the two categories are in an important reciprocal relationship. What priorities/values have been learned on the frontier?

Urgency: I consider this a premier value in meeting the demands of market pressure. It needs to be nourished so it can birth other necessary values. A new program takes five years to get up and running? Try to do it in a year. Or better yet, six months. Remember, it’s always later than you think and the markets are impatient.

Flexibility: Develop multiple pathways to worthy goals: prior learning assessments, course work and competency-based assessments. Above all, maintain flexibility in policy applications. Remember, you’re dealing with flesh and blood that doesn’t cope well with rigidity or pigeonholes.

Respect for your markets: We’re very good at telling our learners what we think they need, but do we encourage them to tell us what they want their learning outcomes to be? How do we do that? And how do we incorporate those desires into our programs? Are we respectful and secure enough to elicit such information and use it?

2. Structural Reorganization

Faculty: A core labor force that is shielded from accountability and that is governed by a separate set of standards, rules and policies is a weighty anachronism that only a few institutions can bear today. Besides, what ever happened to equal justice under law? Find another organizational model that promotes accountability and equal treatment. Drop the medieval distinctions based on status, prestige and place. They don’t help anymore.

Administration: Yes, it’s true that the ranks of administrators have swollen in recent years. Many have pointed this out. But the real problem is not a hungry horde of administrators gobbling up resources; it’s the knee jerk reflex of members of this group to solve problems through bureaucratization. This results in policies on policy and committees on committees. Learners often perceive this as an imposing and threatening maze of rules and regulations when they consider enrolling in an institution. They see them as obstacles to their success. Simplify for goodness sake. It’s not that hard.

Governance: If you want it to be shared, mean it and make sure it is shared equally. Reorganize it to give authentic voice to excluded groups—alumni, community members, staff and, yes, even students. Let governance be animated by the spirit of inclusive diversity. Vox populi, vox Dei.


These are some of the most important lessons that CE has learned about taming the Sturm und Drang of the frontier. I suggest them to the traditional higher education center in the spirit of collegiality, and I hope they will prove useful in taming that center’s own version of this market upheaval.

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Readers Comments

Kendra Willis 2014/06/02 at 8:21 am

It’s about time people started talking more seriously about what a disaster the tenure system has become. I once had an English professor stand in front of the class and tell us that, because he already had tenure, he could literally walk into class, slaughter a sheep and walk out again, and he wouldn’t be fired. This is one area where the snobbishness of traditional higher education institutions really shines through.

Mike H 2014/06/02 at 3:42 pm

It’s really great to see admin and educators in non-traditional higher education passing on these lessons. There’s so much bureaucracy (not to mention old boys’ clubs and the like) getting in the way of really serving students in the best way.

WA Anderson 2014/06/03 at 4:01 pm

I agree to a certain extent, but I’m also a little wary of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There are a lot of things conventional brick-and-mortar institutions do well because they’ve had the time and experience to work out best practices. Not all of that deserves to be tossed.

    John Kokolus 2014/06/04 at 9:46 am

    I certainly agree with you and my institution is trying a somewhat novel approach to innovation exchange between CE and traditional programs in the hope of each learning from the other and each becoming a better program. But that’s the topic for another article!

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