What is stopping colleges from big growth in continuing education programs? |

A separation from the top and leading departments drives a wedge between enrollments and revenue.

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Continuing education can be a game saver for colleges and universities struggling with recruitment and enrollment, but all too often programs and those who work in them become understaffed and fall behind.

That was one of the big takeaways from an annual report released on Monday Modern campus and the University, professional and further education association (UPCEA), which showed that 79% of CE leaders feel their departments lack the human support and key information they need to adequately serve students and their campus.

“The results of this year status of further education The study highlights what UPCEA members already know — that online and professional development leaders often lack both the data and resources needed to achieve the institutional goals set for their unit,” said Bob Hansen, chief executive officer at UPCEA. “This is a time of unprecedented opportunity for online and professional continuing education units to improve the broader higher education sector, and the data in this study is a key tool as it advocates for institutional change.”

With disruptions high due to the pandemic, and with many learners hoping to jump back in and change careers or improve their current position—such as adult learners, alumni, technologists, business workers, and healthcare workers—the opportunities are indeed higher education to get a to take a stronger leadership role in providing better career paths. However, building this pipeline into non-degree certificates and credentials, corporate training and other stackable credentials has encountered difficulties due to what the report calls “administrative burdens.”

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One of the main drawbacks for half of all executives surveyed is the lack of access to real-time enrollment numbers, although senior administrators consistently emphasize the need for CE to increase both enrollments and revenue. This data is much harder to come by in larger institutions. A third say they don’t have the right software to meet departmental needs. How can departments fully understand where enrollments are trending and what programs are working without those numbers? Those who were interviewed and were able to provide data showed an overall decrease in program enrollments from 2019-20 to 2020-21.

“The future of higher education is lifelong learning,” said Brian Kibby, Chief Executive Officer at Modern Campus. “Involving learners beyond the traditional two- and four-year programs is the best way for colleges and universities to thrive. This year’s research—along with almost every conversation I have with Presidents and Provosts—confirms this. However, to support our communities, we must better serve the CE and HR development administrators, who made it clear in this survey that they do not have the resources they need.”

Staff isn’t the only problem. About 10% said they are simply not well funded or marketed properly. A strong bias towards traditional-style programs could also erode growth potential. Many also said they don’t have the support of executives when it comes to expanding their programs.

Because four-year programs tend to get the most attention, CE can easily be overlooked, and that’s a big mistake, according to the Corporate Training and Professional Development Director at an institution. Around 90% of CE executives see micro-IDs, badges and alternative routes as growth drivers. Strengthening them can help meet market demand and help colleges hedge against third parties and boot camp providers. Their inclusion would also bring higher education much closer to a sustainable learning model, something senior administrators seem to recognise. But so far, only about half of the executives surveyed said their colleges and universities have the right marketing, financial and human resources policies in place.

“Higher education cannot have both,” write study authors. “It cannot be expected to reach the ultimate potential of units without providing them with the necessary resources.”

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