Here are 4 ways to boost the reputation of your continuing education units

"Continuing education has been an invaluable companion to the modern learner, adapting to their ever-changing needs," said Shauna Cox, content strategist at Modern Campus. "Now, higher education stands at a pivotal crossroads, presenting a distinct chance to rejuvenate our approach and ethos for their benefit."

Continuing education programs, which institutions are using to create lifelong learning modalities for working adults and retirees, are continuing to catch fire nationwide, according to a new report by Modern Campus. However, insight from its survey respondents suggests that the nascent academic offerings are suffering setbacks that constrain them from reaching full institutional buy-in.

The State of Continuing Education 2024 Report was made in collaboration with The EvoLLLution and UPCEA. Conducted in January and February, it garnered responses from high-ranking academic leaders representing 136 institutions. Directors (15%), deans (12%), executive directors (12%) and associate vice presidents or provosts (9%), and directors of continuing education (7%) made up the majority of respondents.

Respondent demographics suggest that most survey participants hailed from large public research institutions. Half of all respondents hailed from public research institutions, and 47% of participating institutions had more than 15,000 undergraduate and graduate students in 2022-23. The next most popular institution types were two-year (16%) and master’s comprehensive (11%), followed by private research, baccalaureate, for-profit and “other” institutions, all representing 10% or less.

Continuing education infrastructure is growing

At the top of the food chain, senior academic leadership continues to warm up to professional, continuing and online education (PCO) units; respondents who believe they have their support and buy-in swelled to 81% this year, a 15 percentage point gain in the past two years. As a result, the number of respondents who believe they are sufficiently staffed to execute the institution’s goals around PCO has doubled since last year to 45%.

Six out of nine PCO program offerings have experienced institutional growth since last year’s survey. Micro-credentials continue to be the most widely accepted program offering for PCO units with an 84% use rate among all institutions, picking up nine percentage points more than last year. Corporate training and partnerships have similarly experienced double-digit growth since 2022, expanding to a 78% use rate in 2024. While they haven’t quite caught fire yet, industry credential preparation and international language programs have increased in the past two surveys.

Adult learners are the clear-cut favored audience for institutions offering PCO units. As this demographic continues to gain interest from institutions looking to compensate for fledgling Gen Z enrollment numbers, 96% of institutions now offer PCO units directed toward older students. The increased interest has ramped up by 26 percentage points since 2022. Corporate audiences (79%) and alumni (75%) are the next most targeted student demographics.

Furthermore, 54% of respondents agree their PCO units are the most innovative units at their institutions.

“Unlike years past, support is now evolving into additional resources for these units, particularly in the form of staffing, as institutions employ a more concentrated effort to organize and manage continuing education,” Bruce Etter, senior director of Research and Consulting at UPCEA, said in a statement.

However, Etter concedes they are far from reaching their true potential. Despite the incremental progress of PCO units, 61% of respondents believe that their institutions do not view them as academically equal to other units at their institutions.

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Creating the “To-Do” list to raise the bar

1. Improving data accessibility

Despite the buzz around PCO units, institutions cannot confidently gauge student interest. Specifically, only 48% percent of respondents knew its PCO enrollment numbers, an increase of only two percentage points since 2022. Furthermore, less than a third (29%) agreed it was easy for members of their institutions to access real-time enrollment data.

2. Ensure PCO units can integrate into existing infrastructure

More than half of respondents said their PCO units do not integrate seamlessly into legacy campus technologies. This is a significant problem, considering over three-quarters (76%) said this was an important aspect.

3. Increase marketing support

Bolster student interest through intentional marketing strategies. Nearly a third of respondents (29%) said they currently lack marketing support positions within their PCO units.

4. Strengthen key metrics to reach business goals

Over three-quarters (78%) of participants said that efficient course, section and certificate “creation/management” are among the most important elements to achieve their PCO unit’s business goals. Behind that is an easy shopping cart experience for students (64%) and custom pricing and discount options (52%).

“Continuing education has been an invaluable companion to the modern learner, adapting to their ever-changing needs,” said Shauna Cox, content strategist at Modern Campus. “Now, higher education stands at a pivotal crossroads, presenting a distinct chance to rejuvenate our approach and ethos for their benefit.

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. His beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

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