A Continuum of Educational OpportunitiesTerry Rawls | Executive Director of the Division of Educational Outreach and Summer Programs, Appalachian State University
Back in my Healthcare career, about 100 years ago, I came to understand the concept of a Continuum of Healthcare Services. Here’s an example of how that works: I was working in an inner-city Atlanta hospital where I was responsible for doing psychiatric triage. Effectively, I was the guy who decided what was going to happen to the gentleman who had been sampling hamburgers from other guests’ trays at the local Wendy’s.
One afternoon I was interrupted with an urgent request to come down to the lobby, and as I walked down the long hallway the stench of rotting flesh grew stronger and stronger. Upon my arrival I met Max. Max was sitting in a wheelchair, escorted by two policemen who had removed him from his home and brought him to our facility for evaluation. Max proceeded to tell me about the 400 babies in his belly and his urgent need to return to his home so he could care for them.
It was a good thing that we had that Continuum of Healthcare Services because, while important, the 400 babies in his belly were not the most pressing of his problems and psychiatric intervention was not the proper stopping place along that continuum at that particular moment. The fact that the flesh was rotting off his legs due to diabetes seemed somewhat more urgent, and I sent him to the emergency room. (Max was fine; when he stabilized medically his delusions dissipated).
What does this have to do with Education? Simple: I believe that we need to adopt the concept of a Continuum of Services in Education.
We are constantly reminded that EVERYONE can benefit from education in the long run, and we need to understand that while people have different backgrounds and experiences, and very different needs when it comes to accessing education, one size fits all no longer works. Picture a long, straight line and, for the sake of argument, let’s start with high school drop outs on the left-most point and doctoral study on the right (one could start with pre-school, I suppose). In between are a wide range of opportunities: diploma programs, associate’s degrees, baccalaureate degrees and, of course, master’s programs. Some can be earned in very traditional manners at very traditional institutions, and others might take decades of starting and stopping at multiple schools to complete.
We have all sorts of institutions offering all sorts of programs, and these opportunities represent full-time, part-time, experiential and traditional modalities to fill the various niches all along the continuum. For instance, when we first started venturing into online education we quickly came to recognize that there are people out there who, for any number of reasons, simply do not have access to any other means of securing an education. Niche filled! And in this case both for-profit and not-for-profit institutions jumped in to fill the void. So, this continuum contains all sorts of opportunities and it’s the product of generations of development by both the traditional and alternative institutions.
That’s excellent, because according to the Law of Requisite Variety we need lots of opportunities if we’re going to have any shot at all at meeting the educational needs of our society going forward. Sure, we got into a little trouble a few years back when we got stuck on the assumption that there is only one way: the traditional dorm-living-pep-rally-on-Thursday-night-four-years-and-out way to get a degree.
But our Continuing Ed units were instrumental in pioneering the way and showing us that there are indeed both alternative students out there and alternative ways of meeting students’ needs. Even the for-profit folks who have proliferated in recent years are simply working to fill in gaps in that Continuum of Educational Opportunities that traditional schools could not meet (more on that in future contributions).
This would be a great time to stop bickering, comparing, and competing and to start understanding our job is to recognize our niche along the Continuum, and then to do the very best that we can to assure we are meeting the needs of our students within that niche and society as a whole.