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What Type of Continuing Education Program Is That?

What Type of Continuing Education Program Is That?
As Continuing Education takes on a more significant role in higher ed, it is responsible for offering more and more types of programming to meet a wide variety of students’ needs.

Continuing Education programs come in many shapes and sizes. They serve a wide variety of learners seeking to accomplish very different things. In creating and supporting non-credit Continuing Education programs for adults at the University of Minnesota (UMN), we have found it helpful to identify categories for different types of programs that clarify who the programs are designed to serve and what they help learners accomplish. These categories help us align our programs and services to meet varying learner needs. We have also found that many of our colleagues at the university who don’t work with Continuing Education often have a limited understanding of our work and the learners we support. The categories help our colleagues better understand our learners’ needs and how our programs are designed to support them. 

What follows is a non-scientific, likely incomplete, list of different Continuing Education program categories based on what the programs do for the learner; they are not fundamentally based on the particulars of program design, length or price, though those factors will be influenced by the needs of the learner. The categories do not address the particular credential they might earn in the program. The programs could be credentialed in a variety of ways including badges, certificates, certifications or CEUs.

We have found these categories to be helpful, hopefully they are for you as well.

Skill-Up Programs

Skill-up programs help learners gain knowledge and skills to succeed in current and future work roles. These are often short courses and certificates designed to help a person learn specific work-related skills. Skill-up programs can help learners take on new responsibilities or make a career step but may not be sufficient to allow a learner to make a significant career change. These programs can cover a wide variety of topics such as project management, communication, supervision and leadership. Loans are often unavailable for these programs, so learners pay in a variety of ways such as with personal funds, through employer financial support or support from another third-party-payor like a dislocated worker agency or a community foundation.

Example: UMN Project Management Certificate

Role Preparation Programs

Role preparation programs help learners get a new job or switch fields. The programs are designed to help learners develop the knowledge and skills they need to obtain and be successful in a specific role. Role preparation programs will often bundle career services to help learners get the job they want after completing the program. These programs are often offered to individuals through open enrollment or application, with learners paying the fees to participate, but schools may offer payment plans or support private loans to help them manage the cost. Learners may also receive financial support through dislocated worker agencies, economic development grants or community foundations. Employers will also fund program participation in role-prep programs for current employees to develop and promote their staff into hard-to-fill roles.

Examples: UMN Coding Bootcamp

Career Launch-Pad Programs

Career launch-pad programs help learners access entry-level positions that provide a living wage without requiring a college degree. They often focus on serving students working in low-wage jobs who likely have limited financial resources and help them prepare for and access high-demand, living-wage roles that do not require a college degree such as IT help desk support, Salesforce administration or web development. These programs are differentiated by the high levels of support they provide for learners through mentoring, tutoring and career services. Because students often do not have the financial resources to pay in advance and loans may not be available, these programs often operate on a different financial model from traditional higher education models. They often charge little to no money up front and rely on income-based repayment agreements, talent-sourcing fees from employers and philanthropic support.

Examples: Merit America, Climb Hire (we do not currently offer these programs at UMN).


Bootcamps may be a program format rather than a program category based on what learners are trying to accomplish. However, because bootcamps are a part of many Continuing Education portfolios, they are included in this list. Bootcamps are often three-to-six-month intensive programs that prepare people for and access high-paying, in-demand job roles (often in technology-related fields) that do not require a degree. Similarly to career launch-pad programs, bootcamps focus on helping people access high-paying roles; however, their pricing and financing models are quite different. Some learners use bootcamps as an upskilling program, seeking to take on new responsibilities or advance within their current role or career path.

Bootcamp programs often provide significant support services—including mentoring, tutoring, career services—to help students be successful in their learning and job search. Schools may provide a variety of payment and financing options including payment plans, income-based repayment agreements and private loans. Employers and dislocated worker agencies will also provide financial support for learners in the programs.

Over the last several years, the term “bootcamp” has been attached to a wide variety of short-term programs including some as short as a few days or a week. We find this expansion of the term to be unhelpful and have tried to focus our use of “bootcamps” to refer to multi-month intensive programs that have associated support and career services.

Example: UMN Bootcamps

Continuing Education for Licensure Maintenance

These programs help people working in licensed fields meet the annual Continuing Education requirements dictated by their licensing body. These programs help professionals gain knowledge and skills to stay up to date in their fields and maintain their licenses. Continuing Education requirements vary by profession and licensing body. Schools must align their program to licensor requirements and may need to have their programs pre-approved for learners to receive the appropriate Continuing Education credit. Schools are often also involved in reporting program completion data to the licensing bodies. Learners may pay for program costs themselves or receive support from their employer to participate. Loans and payment plans are often unavailable for these programs.

Example: UMN Annual Institute of Building Officials

Test Preparation Programs

Test preparation programs help learners prepare for a wide variety of exams. Tests might include entrance exams such as the GRE or LSAT or they might help learners successfully complete certification exams in a wide variety of fields. Learners often pay for program costs themselves. In some cases, learners may receive financial support from their employer if the exam is related to their work.

Example: UMN Certified Scrum Master Course

Executive Education

Executive education programs are upskilling programs designed to meet senior business and organizational leaders’ needs. Programs may be offered through individual open enrollment or mandated by organizations. Learners will often receive financial support from their employer, though some learners may pay for programs themselves.

Example: UMN Executive Education

Late Career Transition Programs

Late career transition programs help older adults transition from a primary career to an encore career or retirement. These programs are often oriented around helping learners develop their own sense of purpose and identify the impact they would like to have as they move into the last third of their lives. Some of these programs have an intergenerational approach in which the older adult learners work with younger degree-seeking students. Learners either pay their own fees or receive philanthropic support.

Example: The Nexel Collaborative is a group of universities offering these programs.

Enrichment Programs and Lifelong Learning Institutes

Enrichment programs provide people with the opportunity to learn, connect with others and connect with the school. Enrichment programs may be stand-alone courses, lectures or events, or they can be organized into a lifelong learning institute that offers programs throughout the year. Programs are often geared toward meeting older (retired) adults’ needs, though there are programs designed for people of all ages. These programs may also be associated with the developing trend of senior living communities being built on or near university campuses. Program fees are often low, so learners with limited incomes can pay them for themselves. Fees may be structured on a course-by-course basis or be billed as an annual fee or membership. These programs may have philanthropic support that helps them be sustainable while keeping fees low.

Example: UMN Osher Lifelong Learning Institute