Colleges want to expand continuing education but leave teams understaffed, survey says


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Dive Brief:

  • Continuing and online education programs offered by traditional brick-and-mortar colleges endure staffing issues, high administrative workloads and challenges accessing real-time student data. That’s according to an annual survey from the University Professional and Continuing Education Association, and Modern Campus, a higher ed software provider.
  • Among surveyed college employees, 71% said their institutions’ senior leaders supported growing their institutions’ continuing education programs, but 57% said such programs weren’t staffed enough to meet institutional goals. 
  • Some 68% cited administrative burdens as a barrier to expanding continuing education programs, up from 53% in 2022.

Dive Insight:

The findings from the 2023 State of Continuing Education survey show conflict at some institutions between their stated goals for nondegree programs and the resources colleges allocate to support them.

The report states that buy-in from academic leaders has spurred some momentum in the continuing education space.

“However, many of the same challenges that hinder these efforts, such as staffing issues, have remained unresolved, and other challenges such as administrative burdens and real-time data access have worsened since 2022,” the report said.

College employees at 140 institutions completed the full survey between Jan. 10 and Jan. 26. Common job titles included dean, executive director and director of continuing education. Public research institutions made up half of responding colleges, while 14% were private research institutions and 13% were master’s universities. Most respondents were also large institutions — 31% enrolled between 5,000 and 15,000 students and 48% had more than 15,000.

Many respondents highlighted issues that could prevent their programs from adapting quickly enough to stay competitive in the crowded nondegree market.

Among those surveyed, 45% said they were concerned about the time it takes to develop a course from conception to implementation, up from 35% the year prior. And 46% said their teams could not easily access real-time enrollment data for continuing education students, up from 38% in 2022. Respondents from small colleges — those with fewer than 5,000 students — were more likely to report having easy access than those at larger institutions.

Despite institutional belief that continuing education offerings can boost enrollment in traditional programs, there are not easy avenues for students to move between the two, the survey found. 

Over half of respondents, 55%, said students in their colleges’ non-degree programs couldn’t earn credit toward degrees, while 40% said they could and 5% were unsure. Of the colleges that don’t grant credit, just over three-quarters said institutional barriers present the biggest challenge to creating a pathway from non-credit courses to credit-bearing ones. That’s up from 67% in 2022.

That divide mirrors the response from 3 out of 5 respondents who said their continuing education program was not well-integrated with the rest of their college’s offerings.


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