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Sharing Our Success: A Financial Model for Non-Credit Continuing Education Units

The Kansas University Continuing Education Aerospace Short Course Program has successfully operated and been self-supporting for 35 years because of its commitment to sharing its success and revenues with the University and rest of the Continuing Education unit. Photo by JacquiTnature.

Aerospace Short Course Program (Aero) at the University of Kansas Continuing Education (KUCE) has been serving the worldwide aerospace community for the last 35 years by providing non-credit short courses in aerospace engineering, aircraft design, flight control systems design, aircraft compliance and safety, avionic hardware and software and aerospace systems and process management. It provides publicly offered short courses across America and in-house short courses across the globe. The program has a strong international presence in its public courses; foreign participation is 36-40% and to date, participants from 56 countries have attended its public courses. On top of 40-45 public short courses, the program conducts about 50-55 in-house courses every year. At least 40% of these in-house classes are conducted in 22 countries, specifically in Europe, South America, Asia and Australia. To this date, more than 32,000 participants have attended these short courses, and the annual enrollment varies from 1,500 to 2,200, depending on the economic condition and the employment situation of the aircraft industry.

The program has been completely self-supported from the beginning and in last 35 years, it has established a successful financial model that is based on the following factors: Compensating faculty primarily on the success of their courses, generating overages from popular courses to balance any loss in niche-interest but sparsely attended classes, revenue sharing with the rest of the University and overage sharing with the School of Engineering and the Department of Aerospace Engineering. This article describes some of the above factors in detail.

Unlike many European organizations, U.S.-based continuing education institutions generally are fully self-supported, where service units must recover all their costs, salaries and fringes, and pay necessary overheads to the parent organization and/or larger units. The financial success of these educational service units primarily depends on the quality of the services, the financial equivalent (such as the course prices) of the services or products, the existence of a community that can afford such services, and the volume and the frequency of the services offered.

However, there are other embedded factors that govern success of these services. The success of Aero can be attributed to its three vital components:

  1. It has always recognized its instructors as the best assets,
  2. It has always shared its net revenue with the partners (the School of Engineering and the Department of Aerospace Engineering)
  3. It made a conscious effort in analyzing the economics of the aerospace industry by continuously monitoring it, and therefore prevented any catastrophic effects on its financials.

While participants have been the “past”, are the “present” and will be the “future” of Aero, the faculty or the instructors are real reason behind this program’s success. As an administrative staff, we have a saying; “If the instructors do not teach, we do not have jobs.”

The program uses its advisory board that is comprised of its past and present instructors and industry experts to choose new instructors from the industry, government departments and elsewhere in academia. After careful selection, the instructors are given orientation to the program. They are invited, at the program’s cost, to a 3-to-5 day publicly offered short course that they can choose to attend and where they are introduced to other instructors, staff, participants and behind-the-scenes preparatory and coordinating work.

As they start teaching and continue, their efforts are continuously and consistently appreciated through receiving periodic raises. Each year, the raises are based on their assessment over the three past years. Besides the end of course evaluation—where every comment is carefully read—the course of any instructor is assessed on its popularity (the number of the participants in each course, the number of times each course is taught), the uniqueness of the course and, finally, its financial performance (the net revenue, direct expenses such as course materials cost, travel and instruction cost, etc.).

If the instructor’s course has honored the University’s image, the course has remained popular, and it has been able to recover all the costs and generated overage for last three years, that instructor’s efforts are appreciated by a raise-per-day based on the number of days he/she has taught in the previous year. However, if the economic condition of the aerospace industry changes and a downturn is forecasted, the raises are conservative. Instructors appreciate and cherish the raises (who wouldn’t?) and the program provides every possible effort to appreciate the instructors’ contributions.

The program also provides overhead to the University and in turn, it receives continuous support in contractual/legal negotiations, business and information technology services and help from international programs. By sharing the overages or net revenue with the School of Engineering and the Department of Aerospace Engineering, Aero has access to the expertise related to course content, and receives information on market trends, government contacts and help in developing partnerships with other organizations. Further, the brand is well recognized with this association.

Self-supported continuing engineering education programs are not uncommon in the United States. However, these programs often fade out due to lack of sharing of financial success with the partners and contributors. The 35 years of KUCE Aerospace Short Course Program has effectively embedded the “sharing” in its core.

Part of this article was presented with Gina Cregg, Senior Associate Director of the University of Kansas Continuing Education at the ASEE Conference for Industry and Education Collaboration 2012 in Orlando, FL.

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