IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Report: Limited Resources Hinder Continuing Education

A survey conducted by ed-tech company Modern Campus and the nonprofit University Professional and Continuing Education Association found a widespread lack of resources for continuing education in the U.S.

continuing education, adult education stock photo
Modern Campus' annual State of Continuing Education report found that colleges and universities need to change with times to serve adult learners and other students increasingly interested in alternatives to four-year degrees.
The landscape of continuing and workforce education in North American universities is in need of a change. At least that’s the suggestion of 205 leaders who participated in a survey recently conducted by Canada-based Modern Campus, an ed-tech company that spent much of the past year scooping up companies to boost its suite of products for colleges and universities.

The third annual Modern Campus State of Continuing Education report showcases opportunities and challenges in continuing and workforce education divisions at colleges and universities. It was conducted by Modern Campus' higher ed-focused publication The EvoLLLution and the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA). The sample of higher-education professionals, surveyed between Feb. 1-17, said that professional, continuing and online (PCO) education leaders are lacking the data and resources they need to achieve their desired goals.

What’s more, the fundamental information of enrollment data is lacking, as barely more than a third of respondents said teachers at their institutions could easily access real-time data on enrollment in PCO programs.

“The fact of the matter is the postsecondary institutions are recognizing that they need to diversify, and they're recognizing that their continuing professional workforce, that division, is the group that's going to do that,” Amrit Ahluwalia, senior director of strategic insights at Modern Campus, told Government Technology. “At the same time, while this pressure is ramping up on these units, there's fewer and fewer resources available to them to actually drive that mission home.”

Jim Fong, founding director of UPCEA’s Center for Research and Strategy, said the study found neither adequate staffing nor resources focused on continuing education at these institutions. He said that the systems for the typical two- and four-year enrollment process and the continuing-ed systems aren't necessarily tied together, adding that many institutions are using systems that were set up to cater to older generations.

“If you want to achieve those revenues, you've got to create a system that is as mature as the campus-based system,” Fong told Government Technology. “We're seeing some technological challenges … a lot of folks are working off legacy systems, designed for boomers and older millennials or Gen Xers, but this generation is very different. And you've got to communicate to them very differently.”

“You really have to make sure that departments have the capacity, whether that's technological or cultural, to do the work that's necessary to drive the institution forward,” added Ahluwalia.

Notably in the study, 73 percent of respondents — mostly made up of deans and directors, as well as executive directors, associate deans, assistant vice presidents and others — referenced competitive concerns posed by bootcamps and other third-party providers of higher education. The survey revealed that 67 percent of respondents whose institutions offer digital credentials cite market responsiveness as a significant benefit. Additionally, just 7 percent of respondents whose institutions do not offer digital credentials didn't think they would do so in the future.

Among other key statistics from the study, 90 percent of those surveyed said that the driving force behind their professional, workforce and continuing education programs was revenue growth. Most respondents noted that noncredit certificates and badges were among the digital credentials offered at their respective colleges and universities. Among those institutions that provided the aforementioned digital credentials, 71 percent of the higher-ed leaders said they expect alternative credentials to help their institution meet revenue and enrollment goals, the study revealed.

Ahluwalia said the study shows that about a third of continuing-ed units are trying to operate using systems that are designed for the main campus, but the processes that make these units work are completely different than what's needed for the traditional campus.

“So what we're seeing is this gap between the expectations on these units in terms of the strategic growth, and the reality of what they're working with," he said. "They're really being asked to do more with less at significant scale, and there's a point of diminishing returns there."

In a news release, Modern Campus CEO Brian Kibby noted that engaging learners beyond traditional two- and four-year programs is "the best way for colleges and universities to thrive." The professional, workforce and continuing education divisions help institutions forge connections with their communities, as well as provide programs that set students on a path for reliable careers, Modern Campus said in its release. The release said that despite a lack of wide-ranging research on the continuing education market, such programs tend to be at the forefront of transformation and innovation in higher ed. Understanding trends in continuing education can provide a high-level view into where the rest of the post-secondary industry is moving, it said.

“There are a million fewer students enrolled in degree-sequence programs than there were two years ago, but those students didn't disappear. The fact is that they're looking for other options or looking for other pathways to complete their education,” Ahluwalia said. “They're exploring new avenues to upskill, to re-skill and to set themselves up with the labor market. If students are thinking, and acting, and speaking, and searching like customers, we have to provide them the experience that makes that shopping experience, makes that registration experience, seamless.”
Giovanni Albanese Jr. is a staff writer for the Center for Digital Education. He has covered business, politics, breaking news and professional soccer over his more than 15-year reporting career. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Salem State University in Massachusetts.