Visit Modern Campus

Should Public Financial Aid be Made Available to Continuing Education Students? (Part 5)

Should Public Financial Aid be Made Available to Continuing Education Students? (Part 5)
While current financial aid models do not typically account for non-credit or continuing education certificates, these programs contribute to the economic and social health of individuals and communities.

This is the fifth installment in a six-part series by Karen LaMarsh on financial aid for continuing education students. In the previous installment, LaMarsh constructed a case looking at the importance of increasing accessibility to remedial programs for non-traditional students. In this piece, she sheds light on the value that increasing accessibility to continuing education programs can have on institutional performance metrics, especially post-graduation.

Should policymakers, postsecondary systems and the philanthropic community take a closer look at continuing education (CE) certificate programs, which use contextualized learning to help move students quickly to the professional credentials — CMP, SPHR, PMP, etc. — that are recognized by industry? Could CE units be an effective vehicle for some of these gateway courses? As these groups look for innovative ways to improve remediation, they need to closely examine the quality work being done through CE certificate programs that have an immediate and profound impact on student success rates and could lead to a higher college completion rate.

While this notion of creating degree and certification programs that lead graduates to the workforce is revolutionary in the traditional higher education setting, CE has been doing this for years. There is growing evidence that contextualizing instruction and focusing on the skills needed to succeed in a program of study have more impact on students than the one-size-fits-all approach currently used.

Why are CE, non-degree seeking credit and noncredit certificate programs excluded from financial support? They can provide powerful learning experiences that meet the changing needs of society. For example, the Centre for Continuing and Distance Education at the University of Saskatchewan has been in operation since 1907, providing CE for individuals in western Canada. Rollwagen, Romano and McLean conducted a historical research project exploring the changing role of this CE unit and concluded graduates of CE programs are benefitting personally, socially and in the workforce. [1]

Employing the DATA (Describe, Analyze, Theorize, Act) model to reflect on the information presented here, what changes could be made for the benefit of all, and what could create a more educated Georgia, United States and world? [2] We need to consider four components of critical thinking:

  1. Identifying and challenging assumptions.

  2. Recognizing how context influences thoughts and actions.

  3. Considering alternative ways of living and thinking.

  4. Being unwilling to accept something just because “it’s always been done that way” or because an “expert” says it is so. [3]

As we open ourselves up to the possibilities, we can consider “what if?” Peter’s DATA model helps us move and take action. The DATA model can be summarized as follows:

  1. Describe the problem, task or incident that represents some critical aspect of practice needing examination and possible change.

  2. Analyze the nature of what is described, including the assumptions that support the actions taken to solve the problem, task or incident.

  3. Theorize about alternative ways to approach the problem, task or incident.

  4. Act on the basis of the theory [4]

Contemplating the potential of learning outcome-based CE, could the scope of postsecondary education funding be broadened to include CE certificate programs without losing the integrity of higher education? These programs provide viable career options and many lead to professional credentialing for students. They just might be what the Complete College America initiative and the State of Georgia need to succeed. Funding CE is a national issue, as reflected in Texas Governor Rick Perry’s suggestion that:

Establishing an innovative incentive-based performance funding system is essential to furthering Texas’ goal of having institutions of higher education prepare students for the demands and opportunities of the 21st century marketplace. We must change the paradigm from funding institutions solely based on students enrolled to funding based more on the quality of students produced. [5]

– – – –


[1] Heather Rollwagen, Silvana Romano and Scott McLean. “Continuing education and the changing needs of rural communities: A case study of two university extension programs at the University Of Saskatchewan, 1911-1964.” 2007. Accessed at

[2] Stephen Brookfield. Understanding and facilitating adult learning (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1986)

[3] Sharan B Merriam and Ralph G. Brockett. The profession and practice of adult education: An introduction (New York, NY: John Wiley, 2007)

[4] Ibid

[5] Alisha Hyslop, “Pilot Innovative Approaches to Funding.” Techniques: Connecting Education and Careers Vol. 83 (5), May 2008.

This is the fifth installment in a six-part series by Karen LaMarsh exploring the availability of federal and state financial aid funding for non-traditional students enrolling in continuing education programs.

To read other articles in the series, please click below.