Grabbing Focus: How Continuing Education Can Take Center Stage

Colleges and universities that have adopted continuing education as a tool for reskilling learners have a choice to make.  

They can either embrace the new model of education and do what is best for students and the community, or they can stick with the old and try to boost their rankings by getting as many applications as possible.  

On this episode of Illumination, recorded live at UPCEA’s 2022 conference in Orlando, host Amrit Ahluwalia chats with David Schejbal, President of Excelsior College, about the choices institutions have around CE and how global issues are impacting curriculum development.  

Over the last decade, Schejbal says CE has evolved from the “ugly stepchild” of the industry to a mainstream part of education.  

Continuing education is a viable option for thousands of students looking to reskill or upskill—an option available to students of all ages.  

But across the US, every institution competes for the same market. It’s a competition that CE still has to come to grips with, as it is still considered a new kid on the education block.  

“The competition is stiff, and most institutions don’t have the luxury of being as selective as the used to be, especially when it comes to age,” Schejbal says.  

A lot of higher ed institutions are trying to convince others that CE can produce valuable learning outcomes. Traditional, tenured professors may be thinking old-school—that the only way to teach a student is to have them on campus for four years, not four months. 

It will take a culture shift—and a mission redirection among many institutions—to fully embrace CE, workforce development and online education. 

“There is an approach where higher ed institutions want a lot of students to apply, and then they want to turn most of them away because that helps them rise in rankings,” Schejbal says. “Unfortunately, if that’s the mentality, then higher ed isn’t about access; it’s about exclusivity.” 

However, many institutions struggle to balance accessibility, affordability, and maintaining their financial bottom lines.  

It’s up to each institution to decide just how accessible it wants to be and which segment(s) of the population they want to serve.  

“If you’re serving 18-year-olds, your main job is to help them grow up,” Schejbal says. “Hopefully, they will learn something along the way. If you are serving 35-year-olds, your job is likely to help them transition into a better career.” 

At Excelsior, students are setting an example for their families. Many are first generation learners who want to show they can succeed in higher ed. Excelsior strives to create a culture of exploration—getting students excited about postsecondary learning.  

Excelsior courses are entirely online and is focused primarily on continuing education, which offers learners a unique level of accessibility.  

“We don’t have that internal conflict that a lot of other schools have,” Schejbal says. “We don’t have to choose between focusing on research, elite students and continuing ed.” 

Outside the campus walls, societal factors are at play that will impact student development and curriculum building for decades.  

Reversing climate change is a crucial issue for higher education, if for no other reason than half of the world’s population lives within 200 miles of a coastline.  

“There is going to be displacement,” Schejbal says. “There will be food shortages. There are going to be national security issues, risk management, and a lot more, in 10 or 20 years.” 

Schejbal believes the escalating culture wars in the United States are not going away, and likely will get worse before it gets better. All of this, in addition to a continuing systemic poverty issue, leaves people feel powerless to make changes for themselves.  

Fortunately, education can shift human development. In the last decade, Schejbal believes, too much focus has been put on skill development rather than knowledge growth.  

Teaching skills is the easy part, Schejbal says. Getting people to learn on their own and lead better lives is the more complicated long game.

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Scaling Non-Degree Education

Last updated: April 22, 2022


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