How an Active Extended University Benefits the Rest of CampusBeth Brunk-Chavez | Dean of Extended University, University of Texas at El Paso
Continuing education is nothing new to university and college campuses. Non-credit courses and programming can come in a wide range of forms, including community enrichment classes such as cooking and photography, physical fitness classes in kickboxing or spinning, children’s camps during the summer and on weekends, custom professional development series for corporations or civic organizations, intensive language courses for students already in the U.S. or visiting with the intention of eventually enrolling at the university, and so on.
This wide range of courses provides many opportunities for the university to interact with diverse community members and may help to bridge the “town and gown” divide if one exists.
For the university itself, though, I will address three key areas where I see these non-traditional divisions, or extended universities, significantly benefitting their institutions.
Offering children’s camps—whether they are athletic, academic, or artistic—on a university campus provides many benefits, including acclimating and somewhat enculturating young students to the college environment, providing parents with a safe and vibrant learning environment for their children, and encouraging community members to see the university as an educational resource. Camp leaders might be K-12 teachers or graduate students at the university. Local high school students can volunteer and gain valuable experience working in a university setting. This is an excellent example of the university and community coming together to participate in a great learning experience.
Continuing education units are well suited to offer these camps because of their ability to coordinate people and processes at a large scale: planning the curriculum; selecting instructors; marketing; participant registration; collecting payments; ordering camp supplies; providing legal and safety assurances; coordinating space and movement of children across the campus; and so on.
Partnerships with Main Campus Divisions
Another way continuing education units bring value to the university is by partnering with academic units to provide a service to students that wouldn’t be possible within the traditional academic structure. One example is math module classes provided to university students during the winter and spring intersessions. When students aren’t successful in their math class, they have the option of enrolling in an intensive math class with a university faculty member. If successful in passing the math module, they receive credit for the course they took during the long semester. Working through a continuing education unit provides a process for collecting the fee, paying the instructor, and scheduling the time and space outside the traditional academic calendar.
These are just two examples of the many ways that a continuing education unit brings value to the university or college it is associated with. Continuing education units on many campuses, however, aren’t as visible to the faculty and staff as they could be. They may be seen–too simply–as an auxiliary unit, or as a revenue-generating arm of the university. However, developing relationships with academic departments and encouraging continuing education leadership to participate in campus committees where appropriate is a good way to integrate the unit more fully into the campus and encourage faculty and staff to not only participate in the continuing education courses but also to sometimes lead them.
Broadening Access through Online Education
Another element of extended universities that has become increasingly important is credit-bearing online learning programs that enable students from the region and far beyond to complete their degree 100 percent online. While the faculty who teach these courses are typically appointed by academic departments, an Extended University can provide the valuable services of marketing, recruitment, advising, state authorization oversight, course development, and coordination with essential university offices such as the registrar, financial aid, and student business services.
Because most universities are not equipped to provide online students with the same level of service that it provides to its face-to-face students, an extended university unit focused on student success can coordinate processes and services to make sure that online students’ unique needs are met. From my perspective, it is important for online programming to be as integrated as possible into the traditional university culture so that faculty feel like their concerns about online pedagogy are heard and addressed, and so that students are given an engaging and high-quality educational experience. Online programming leaders can participate in important conversations about what constitutes an ideal mix of face-to-face, hybrid and online programming for the university’s students, faculty and staff.
These are just three examples of the many learning opportunities where the campus and community members come together to learn, share ideas, engage with others, and improve their well being.
While extended universities may sometimes feel like the university’s stepchild, there are a number of advantages they can bring to the university, the students and the community.
Author Perspective: Administrator