Dixie Darr

In creativity, Learning on February 6, 2009 at 2:50 pm

From Stepchild to Cinderella

Continuing Education has long been viewed as the stepchild of higher education. College and University continuing education departments typically handle a huge variety of programs that includes anything outside the realm of traditional academic programs, such as:

  • Non-credit courses, workshops and seminars
  • Corporate training
  • Professional development
  • Evening and weekend classes
  • Off-campus classes
  • Certificate programs
  • Distance learning
  • Adult degree-completion programs

Even as these programs became wildly profitable, they remained an almost unacknowledged revenue stream to shore up the finances of the programs considered more “central” to the institution’s mission. Ironically, that allowed them to become the creative, entrepreneurial department within some pretty hidebound schools.

In these times of rising tuition costs, cutbacks in government support, and decreasing confidence in a degree as a job guarantee, many public colleges are turning for help to their continuing education departments. “We have to address the fact that universities have to get very serious about generating revenue,” said Bernadette Tiernan, director of continuing and professional education at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J. “We’re more reactive to market forces.” Being open to shifting market trends is a whole new idea to colleges which have long refused to accept that they are in the business of education.

One advantage is that “Continuing education is a “12-month operation,” Tiernan said, “without the down cycles in traditional academia.”

Rutgers University now has 50,000 students enrolled in noncredit programming statewide, said Ray Caprio, vice president for continuous education and outreach. That equals the total number of students enrolled at the University’s three campuses. “The overall strategy is that we all must become more entrepreneurial,” he said.

It should be interesting to see how they accomplish that trick. Maybe the stepchild will turn into Cinderella. I’m looking for innovative programs to feature here, so let me know about any you know of.

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