Reaching Receptive Learners: Why Continuing Education Has to Target the Right Audience

Continuing education may have an identity problem. 

How leaders market and advertise CE programs to students matters, but so does who—which demographics of potential learners—sees the ads. Finding the right audience for the right message is imperative to any successful CE division.  

On this episode of the Illumination podcast, host Amrit Ahluwalia is joined by Jill Pippin, Dean of Extended Learning at State University of New York at Oswego. The two discuss the importance of defining what a continuing education unit’s mission and vision, and how institutions of all sizes can use CE methods to develop for-credit programming.   

Defining what continuing ed is, and what it does, is difficult enough on the best of days. There needs to be a shift in the industry’s nomenclature to better market CE to more people around more institutions.  

Ensuring that there is a clear understanding among the public, and even faculty at the boarder institution, is essential for CE to grab hold of students’ attention.  

“It’s a continuing process, year after year, where you have to explain what you do in continuing ed,” Pippin said. “You have to explain what you do to your leadership chain just to get their attention and receive resources to ensure you can do a good job.” 

Fortunately, Pippin is at an institution that understands CE and its faculty’s value. But she has seen the opposite attitude elsewhere. 

CE units are often one of the first things to be cut when new executive leadership is brought in. But cutting the unit severs ties to the community that continuing education creates. 

It all comes back to the messaging around continuing education, and that starts with the first thing people see from an institution: its name.  

Pippin was asked if SUNY’s Extended Learning division should have “online” in its name, or if a new name should be implemented all together, with “Extended Learning” switched for something else.  

“I was asked to look into what other institutions are naming their CE divisions and come back with a proposal,” Pippin said. “This happened multiple times, because each time I came back I’d say ‘No, extended learning is what it is.’” 

Pippin looked at 118 other schools and found that most include “extended learning” or “continuing education” in their names, with a good number of “professional educations” thrown in for good measure.  

As of 2019, Pippin found that only 15 included the word “online”. 

 As online education efforts were put at the forefront of higher ed two years ago, institutions are looking for what they can learn from continuing ed to implement elsewhere. 

Non-traditional and lifelong learners are now the norm. Learners of all ages and backgrounds are enrolling and looking to make changes to their careers.  

“One of the things I’m pondering right now is: is it the mission of the of our institution to serve this population? I say yes.” Pippin says. “Full heartedly.” 

Pippin has observed that many, but not all, schools that have incorporated a continuing ed division are reaping the benefits and seeing massive payoffs.  But campuses that have traditionally targeted younger students and include on-campus housing or residences may not have the means to properly implement CE. This can make it difficult for faculty at campuses without CE to see its intrinsic value. 

Schools have to know their audience as well as they know their messaging.  

 “Are we designing things working class people can access and succeed in, while perusing education?” Pippin says. “I think it’s unmeasurable how many people would have pursued higher education had they had the opportunity to take a program that they could fit into their lives.” 

Unfortunately, many institutions struggle to understand their own learners. 

In the State of Continuing Education 2022 report, released in March 2022, 46% of responders couldn’t give accurate enrollment numbers from the previous year, and more than 30% lacked real-time enrollment data.  

Student engagement and retention could be critical to keeping enrollment numbers steady but institutions need to adapt to learners and offer make more accessible, personalized experience.  

This is a problem that requires institutional change and collaboration from leaders the world over— to come together and agree that continuing education is not only valuable; it’s necessary.  

If you have an idea of what that change could look like, connect with The EvoLLLution via our submissions page.  

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Student Experience

Last updated: May 20, 2022


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