UPCEA – Happy 100th Anniversary (Part One)

UPCEA–Happy 100th Anniversary

Part One

Two weeks ago UPCEA celebrated its 100th Anniversary with their annual meeting in Washington, DC. Kudos goes out to Bob Hansen and his staff as well as Bea Gonzalez (now Past President of UPCEA), David Schejbal (now President), and the co-chairs for the meeting, Marie Cini and Richard Novak, for putting together not only a great conference but also hosting a celebration that I considered most worthy for the 100th Anniversary of our association.

The meeting began with recognizing the past presidents of UPCEA, and there were quite of few of us. This was especially meaningful for me to have the opportunity to join some of the great leaders in our field on the stage.  The best moment however came when Alex Charters was introduced as the oldest past president of UPCEA.  Alex received a well-deserved standing ovation for his long time support of UPCEA as well as his leadership in the field of professional and continuing education.

The meeting was packed with a number of informative concurrent sessions as well as top-notch general sessions.  I had a few take-aways from all the sessions, but I wanted to share a few from two of the general sessions that I felt were particularly germane to my work as a professional continuing educator.

Paul J. LeBlanc—The State of the Online University: What Lies Ahead?

Paul LeBlanc is the president of Southern New Hampshire University, which has become a powerhouse in online learning under his leadership. He is currently taking a leave of absence to work with the Department of Education on some key projects.

He pointed out the four “Cs” to consider when building and offering online programs and they are: Cost, Credential, Convenience, and Completion time.  In terms of cost, one of the leaders in this area in my mind has been Burck Smith of Straighterline, who has successfully taken on the challenge of lowering the costs of taking courses.  Cost is a key to the accessibility of education. What Burck has done is to break the mold of providing students more ways to borrow money, and instead actually implementing a way to reduce the cost.  I’ve commented about this before in other Shaeffer’s Forays blog posts that we as professional continuing educators need to step up to this challenge and find ways of actually lowering the cost of education.  Certainly implementing competency-based programs is one way, implementing robust Prior Learning Assessments is another, and finding ways to work with the likes of Straighterline, Sofia Learning, and other content providers is another.

Another “C” is credential, and for me this means providing paths and courses that leads the student towards obtaining a credential; I would add not just a credential but a credential that leads to employment.  I understand and support the idea that pursuing a higher education degree is much more than simply preparing for a career.  However, as the cost of higher education increases we have an obligation to assist students in understanding a path to a career through the programs and courses they take – and that path may not include a degree for everyone.  Our Governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, is very clear when he talks about postsecondary education; he wants to see what he calls “Pathways to the 21st Century Workforce” by offering degrees and credentials for high demand jobs.  I’m loosely quoting him when I heard him speak a few weeks ago about education: “I don’t care if it (courses/programs) leads to a degree or certificate as long as it leads to employment in high demand areas.”  I see many opportunities for professional continuing educators in this area, including creating partnerships with our colleagues in community colleges and working closely with them to bring the full spectrum of workforce development to business, industry, government, and military. In addition, we own the ability as professional continuing educators to create multidisciplinary programs, because we are able to reach across content areas and colleges and deliver high-need programming in a compressed time frame.  We can only do this if we have strong partnerships with our academic colleagues throughout the institution.

In addition to cost and credential, LaBlanc mentioned the need for convenience.  Convenience is defined as “a quality or situation that makes something easy or useful for someone by reducing the amount of work or time required to do something.”  Sometimes the notion of providing convenience to our students is interpreted as making the classes themselves easy and therefore not maintaining the academic integrity of the course. I would argue that our job is to make our student services such as registration, advising, tutoring, etc. as convenient as possible.  I am reminded that we live in a world where we can drive up and get gas anytime we need without the help of anyone (unless you are gas pumping challenged, or in New Jersey). We live in a world where Amazon remembers what we’ve purchased and can suggest other items we might like. We live in a world where we have software that make doing our taxes more intuitive than registering for a course.  In my mind, it is clear that convenience is all about providing ease of access.

The final “C” is one that is quickly becoming “the measure” for success for higher education: completion time.  We are seeing more and more states initiating measures of success for determining funding and one of those often mentioned is time to completion.  While I agree that we need to provide ways to accelerate the time to completion, I am most concerned about finding ways to assist with completion and better understanding from the student’s perspective what their goal is, and what consider successful completion.   Successful completion isn’t always finishing a degree; it may be completing a certificate or simply taking a single class and getting the information the student needed.  Having said this, I do believe we need to assist students as they complete degrees/certificates/courses to see how they can also compete with these credentials. Borrowing from a National Governors’ Association report, we have an obligation of taking students from “complete to compete.”

I thought it was refreshing that as an Association we reached out to speakers who forced us to think beyond our higher education walls like Paul LeBlanc. Part two of “Happy 100th Anniversary” will focus on what we learned about “the shift age” and a comment or two about the Nolte Award.

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