Accessibility and Attraction: How to Ensure Higher Ed Is for Everyone

How does higher education cater to every audience, while still ensuring there is money to be made? The short answer: by formulating strategic plans with accessibility at top of mind. The long answer is a bit more complicated than that.  

On today’s episode, we dip into the archives for an interview recorded live at the 2022 University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) Annual Conference. EvoLLLution Editor-in-Chief and Illumination host Amrit Ahluwalia spoke with Kelly Otter, Dean of The Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies. The two discuss how to build an institution’s culture in continuing education and how to balance accessibility and mission with the need to generate revenue.  

Otter brought together different experts at Georgetown to help build a continuing education unit that values each student’s current educational journey— whether they’re looking to upskill, reskill or switch careers entirely. 

“We have to think about how we provide the highest quality, most rigorous education to people, regardless of their situation in life,” Otter says. “It’s always been a creative design problem.” 

After identifying the design issue, Otter helped build a culture centered around educational allies and people who believe in one another. Georgetown is primarily known for its traditional students, but its non-traditional population has been expanding—growing faster than any other Georgetown demographic  

“We have changing migration patterners and birth rates, so the look of the undergraduate learner has changed in the last few decades,” Otter says. “It’s going to continue to change more. And that change in demographic will change the mission of our traditional institution will help us better design a culture and structure for CE.” 

 With those incoming non-traditional learners comes a greater need to make education accessible and affordable.  

To meet those needs, Otter says she considers Georgetown’s values, mission, and program goals along with the demographics of prospective learners. Non-traditional students aren’t also able to rely on scholarships or philanthropy, so the programs need to have an affordable pricing model. 

Building a culture that is accessible to learners at every age is critical. But finding a way to do that at each school across North America can be taxing.  

“Look around the room here,” Otter says, referring to the attendees of UPCEA 2022. “For each person you see, there is a completely different institutional structure that comes with its own institutional challenges.” 

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Last updated: October 5, 2022


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