Extending the Reach of Michigan’s Public Universities through Continuing Education

In Talent by MASU Guest

[Note: Today’s guest post is provided by four members of MASU’s Extended Education and Professional Development Committee.]

University-based continuing education is well into its second century. On record is Cornell University’s faculty-led “Tour of the Great Lakes” program for “teachers and others” in 1877. Today, professional and continuing education (PCE) units within universities help institutions expand their reach and play an integral role addressing the needs of learners who may not be able to follow a traditional path to obtaining access to higher education. A primary role of Michigan’s public universities, as social institutions, is to provide a public good. PCE departments play a central role in advancing that mission. Often times, PCE departments help these institutions deliver on this public purpose by identifying how they can align the educational and occupational aspirations of adult students with the talent needs of the state’s employers. Whether it’s forming collaborations across academic disciplines to meet community needs that span traditional boundaries, or identifying new markets for innovative programming, their voices on campus can help identify new solutions.

Serving Adult Learners

Professional and continuing education departments at Michigan’s public universities offer a wide variety of programming, and serve a varied audience; yet one commonality is their advocacy for, and dedication to, meeting the needs of adult learners. Continuing education programs generally offer a breadth of personal and professional education opportunities in a variety of formats, while also providing the support necessary for lifelong learners to be successful. There is often an overarching academic focus on “practical” or professional and career-focused study, responsiveness to changing educational needs arising within regional economies, and a commitment to broad access. PCE outreach positively impacts the state’s regional economies by building programs that meet the needs of underserved populations, including working professionals, as well as employers that have specific workforce needs. The state’s public universities and employers are benefiting by working collaboratively to maximize human capital, but it is a partnership that requires new approaches and perspectives, ones that university PCE departments often bring to the table.

The Continuing Education Professional

PCE leaders have a vast and varying set of responsibilities for policies, programming and delivery formats that serve a wide set of learners and audiences. One of the most important aspects is the PCE leader’s passion for innovation and collaboration. Their position within the university allows them to be boundary spanners—reaching out to the entire spectrum of colleges, centers, and institutes across their institutions to identify the needed expertise to deliver niche professional education to meet the tailored needs of learners and employers. Their work with multiple academic disciplines across the university provides a unique understanding of opportunities and partnerships that often transcend a university’s current capabilities. Their role requires them to be entrepreneurial, innovative and fiscally responsible.

Hallmarks of Excellence

The University Professional Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) has more than 4,600 members from the nation’s leading public and private institutions. The association recently published the following seven “excellent practice” pillars that can help organizations and stakeholders understand the purpose and value of professional and continuing education enterprises:

  1.   Internal Advocacy
  2.   Entrepreneurial Initiative
  3.   Faculty Support
  4.   Student Support
  5.   Digital Technology
  6.   External Advocacy
  7.   Professionalism

The authors of this post are members of the Extended Education and Professional Development Committee of the Michigan Association of State Universities (MASU). The committee works to inform MASU of issues and opportunities related to Continuing and Professional Education in Michigan. This post is the first in a series that will be published in the coming months. Subsequent posts will specifically address several of the Excellent Practice Pillars referenced above and will share stories of how they are seeding innovation at their institutions and beyond.

Melissa Peraino is Director of Educational Outreach at Grand Valley State University
Gerald Rhead is Director of Academic Entrepreneurship at Michigan State University
Mary Starnes is Associate Director of Academic and Professional Programs at Central Michigan University
Deborah White is Director of the Office of Extended Learning at the University of Michigan-Flint