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In the past, Continuing Education programs were designed to enhance the personal skills of individuals. The courses under Continuing Education ranged from swimming to crafts. These courses were mostly for leisure and personal enjoyment. However, times have changed and Continuing Education has changed also. Although, leisure and enjoyment courses are still offered through Continuing Education, many courses are also taught that serves the professional needs of people. Leisure activities, professional development and self-renewal are all reasons why people seek the services of Continuing Education programs.
Many colleges and universities throughout the United States offer some form of Continuing Education Programs. Continuing Education Programs serve a diverse community of experienced, adult learners and organizations by linking them to thought-leaders and knowledge. The programs offer unique and inspiring learning opportunities that span the breadth of academic disciplines. Motivated adults explore new possibilities to enrich their personal and professional lives.
Continuing education may refer to one of two types of education. The first is a type of post-secondary education in a general sense, often for its own sake rather than being designed for a particular degree or certification. The second type is education required in a licensed profession in order for the professional to maintain the license (Wehrmeyer, et. al. 2006). The first type is often referred to as vocational training. These courses often lead to certificates in heating and air conditioning, computer based training, certified nursing programs and other areas of vocational training. The second type of continuing education assists students that have already completed higher education programs in maintaining educational skills pertaining to their areas of professionalism. General continuing education is similar to adult education, at least in being intended for adult learners, especially those beyond traditional undergraduate college or university age.
THE MISSION OF CONTINUING EDUCATION
The mission of Continuing Education is to provide high quality continuing education and lifelong learning opportunities for professional development, personal enrichment, career transitions and academic growth. High quality education is a standard within itself that demands the institution to offer courses that will meet the demanding professional needs of its clients. Therefore, the program of learning must offer a collection of learning activities that are designed and intended as continuing education and they must comply with the standards of the professional organization (Statement on Standards for Continuing Professional Education Programs n.d.).
According to the author of The American Community College, the major reasons for enrolling in Continuing Education programs are as follows:
ü To improve chances of employment-42%
ü To further cultural or social development-39%
ü To learn a certain hobby 34%
Continuing Education courses must illustrate the skill or knowledge to be developed and the expected student outcome (Cohen and Brawer 2003).
STANDARDS FOR CONTINUING EDUCATION
Continuing education courses are effective at meeting the specific aims of increasing awareness (Wehmeyer and Chenoweth 2006). Now more than ever there is a growing need for the services that are offered through Continuing Education programs which has changed how overall program structure. Partnerships have been formed with agencies that provide professional services to its clients. Professionals, such as, social workers, educators, counselors, law enforcement personnel and healthcare professionals are continuously seeking professional development type courses in order to maintain a certain level of professionalism. These professionals are required to maintain a specific level of education as it relates to their chosen profession. This is done through lifelong learning courses, classes, workshops and seminars that are offered through Continuing Education.
The demand for accredited learning experiences has forced Continuing Education programs to enhance their goals, standards and practices in order to ensure that the professionals they serve are receiving the highest quality of education that is possible.
One may question why a professional that has already obtained a certain level of education would need to continue to further or pursue additional education. This is due to the changing updates and trends in technology other skills that may be required to further their success in their chosen careers. Not only does education continue when schooling ends, but also it is not confined to what may be studied in adult education courses. The ultimate goal of the educational system is to shift to the individual the burden of pursuing his or her own education (Gardner 2002).
When professionals seek to enhance their skills they are more valuable to their employees. These types of employees are considered human capital. Human capital is an investment in the knowledge and skills of the workforce. Part of the solution will require institutions of higher education that focus on the efficient development of workplace skills and values, particularly those related to work life long education and continuous self-improvement (Sperling and Tucker 1996.)
ORGANIZATIONS THAT SET FORMAL ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE OF CONTINUING EDUCATION STANDARDS AND GOALS
There are many organizations throughout the United States that set the formal structure of goals and standards for the hundreds of Continuing Education programs offered in higher education. These organizations were established to ensure that Continuing Education and other training programs followed strict guidelines to ensure quality educational training. Goals provide direction and motivation, and they reduce uncertainty for participants and represent standards for assessing the organization (Hoy and Miskel, 2008).
Some of the organizations that were created to establish quality standards for Continuing Education programs are the International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET), University of Continuing Education Association (UCEA), Association for Continuing Higher Education (ACHE), and Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET). Advocates maintain that standards provide schools with a common sequence of goals and supply students, teachers and administrators with a consistent and coherent guide of selecting content, developing teaching and learning strategies, and assessing whether the goals have been met.
ACCET was officially recognized in 1978 by the United States Department of Education. The United States Department of Education saw this organization as a reliable authority as to the quality of education or training provided by the institutions of higher education and the programs they accredit. ACCET provides institutional accreditation for organizations offering Continuing Education as a clearly identified institutional objective within the operational entity (ACCET 2006). ACCET provides policies and procedures that measure and ensure educational standards of quality. This organization promotes Continuing Education programs of the highest quality and integrity.
Since 1915, UCEA has been helping colleges and universities to promote educational access to adults. This association is committed to professionalism, to excellence in continuing higher education and to advancing knowledge about the field (UCEA 2006). UCEA also provides national leadership in support of policies that advance workforce and professional development. One of their main goals is to ensure that the Continuing Education programs and services address societal needs and economic trends. They firmly believe in enhancing the ability of higher education institutions to provide quality Continuing Education programs by promoting standards of good practice in continuing higher education. They also believe that they are furthering public awareness about their role in human resource development by articulating national polices and initiatives addressing workforce needs (UCEA 2006).
The mission of IACET is to promote and enhance quality in Continuing Education and training through research, education and the development and continuous improvement of IACET criteria, principles and standards (IACET 2006). This organization was created in 1968 by an National Task Force that consisted of leaders from the American Medical Association and the American Nursing Association. This task force created the universal guidelines for Continuing Education and the Continuing Education Unit (CEU). As of September 2005, IACET had over 600 members.
AREAS OF SERVICE FOR CONTINUING EDUCATION PROGRAM
AT CHICAGO STATE UNIVERSITY
The quality of service provided by the administration and staff of the Division of Continuing Education program at Chicago State University will determine the effectiveness and success of the program. The Division functions as a top down administration. This organizational characteristic is referred to as the hierarchy of authority. The formal structure of hierarchy of authority for the Division of Continuing Education at Chicago State University consists of a dean, an assistant dean, five directors (a director for each program), three administrative assistants, clerks, and work-study students.
Although the formal structure is utilized when directives come down from the dean, an informal structure is used most often. The formal structure has been set up to accommodate the needs of the university but the informal structure is what works for the overall daily activities of the Division. An informal organization is a system of interpersonal relations that forms spontaneously within formal organizations. Organizational communication is the process of sending of messages through both formal and informal networks that results in the construction of meaning and influences both individuals and groups (Hoy and Miskel, 2008).
Formal communication comes down the organization though the hierarchy of authority. Facts, opinions, attitudes, suspicions, gossip, rumors, and some directives flow freely and rapidly through the grapevine. Although there are formal and informal communication processes, the Division sometimes functions in the informal stage. If there continues to be a lack of balance between the two structures the effectiveness of the work of the Division may become compromised.
Policies, guidelines, and recommendations are constantly communicated throughout the Division. The formal communication channels are often noted through office correspondences. This formal approach is basically used to ensure that all employees have written notification of office policy.
In the early 1990's, the cost of training or work-related learning which could better the bottom line of profits became an investment for employers (Draves 1997). Now more than ever employers are seeking to hire the best possible candidate to fill vacant positions within their organizations. The best possible candidate is likely to be the individual who has acquired a certain amount of education and skills that are pertinent to their chosen profession. The educated person enjoys a broader range of job opportunities than his or her less well educated counterpart (Brimley and Garfield 2005).
Implications can arise if Continuing Education programs do not meet the objectives and goals of the college or university that offers the programs, for the organizations that set the standards and goals and for the professional who depends on accredited training. Some of the implications are as follows:
Implication 1-Many professionals are required to maintain a certain level of continuing professional education to ensure licensure standards. The professionals' job and/or career can be at stake if they do not maintain this level of education.
Implication 2-Professional organizations require certain standards, goals and objectives be held by the resource that the professional utilizes to obtain CEU's. Therefore, the standard must be held by the CEU issuing institution.
Implication 3-The program of learning must offer a collection of learning activities that are designed as Continuing Education.
Implication 4-Programs must comply with the standards of the professional organization. This will ensure that the professional is obtaining quality information and what is actually needed to maintain a specific level of professionalism. The requirements are intended to encourage professionals to maintain their training and stay up-to-date on new developments.
Implication 5-The demand for accredited learning experiences has forced Continuing Education programs to enhance their goals, standards and practices.
The continuing development of professional competence involves a program of lifelong educational activities. Improving the knowledge and skills of the workforce will require more than simply providing more of the same education and workplace training. Part of the solution will require institutions of higher education that focus on the efficient development of workplace skills and values, particularly those related to work lifelong education and continuous self-improvement (Sperling and Tucker 1996).
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University of Continuing Education Association. www.ucea.org. Washington, DC
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