Collaboration Critical Between Registrar and Continuing Ed

Today’s college students come from all walks of life and higher education institutions strive to best serve every kind of student. There are increasing opportunities for professional and continuing education (PCE) and traditional academic programs to work together to enhance learning mobility and improve college access for adult learners and support student success overall. 

To better understand and explore the relationship between professional and continuing education (PCE) and traditional academic programs, leading educational organizations Modern Campus, AACRAO, and UPCEA, recently partnered to conduct a survey on undergraduate-serving institutions in the United States.

The report Collaboration, Competition or Convergence?: The relationship between professional and continuing education and traditional academic programs, aims to explore the extent to which institutions currently operate in collaboration or competition for students and/or institutional resources. Data from this first-look 2023 benchmark survey identifies a number of issues, challenges and opportunities PCE units face with academic registrars and others within the administration system.

Of institutions with a PCE unit, 58% of the respondents describe the engagement between the PCE unit and the academic-registrar unit as either “occasional informal interaction on an ad-hoc basis.” Survey results indicate that 86% of respondents from institutions with existing PCE units believe that multiple barriers exist and impact the ability of the PCE unit and the academic registrar to work closely together. These barriers include lack of common practices, policies, shared technologies and serving a common learner population. Additionally, of institutions without a formal PCE unit, 55% do offer non-degree, alternative or microcredentials and perceived challenges to this approach are a lack of consistency in the learner experience, a lack of rigor/meaning in credentials, and an overlap of offerings.

“Microcredentials have captured the imagination of learners, employers and higher ed leaders for years—but unfortunately, we’ve taken a siloed approach to rolling them out,” said Amrit Ahluwalia, Senior Director of Strategic Insights at Modern Campus. “And this siloing is happening within individual institutions, creating complexity and confusion within colleges and universities themselves. It’s no wonder the industry is confused!”

The results highlight that there is no primary model that captures the level of cooperation or competition between the PCE unit and the academic registrar. The extent to which these programs collaborate, compete or converge varies greatly both within and across institutions. Results indicate that collaboration and/or competition between programs appears to be more widespread than convergence.

“With this report, we want to shine a light on the biggest areas for alignment and improvement so higher ed institutions can begin to establish a more unified approach to developing, offering and marketing microcredentials,” Ahluwalia said. “Ideally, this creates a broader understanding of the value of these credentials. And ideally it provides institutions a platform to create better alignment between their academic units and their professional and continuing education units—ensuring each have the technology and processes in place they need to serve their discrete audiences, but ensuring those systems and processes connect so there’s a clear understanding across the board of the value and impact of the programs students can pursue.”

As indicated by the report findings, institutions should aim to adopt a more intentional, global and strategic approach to credential programs. By doing so, institutions can ensure both equitable and accessible opportunities that enhance student success and prepare all learners for the workforce and beyond.

"With increasing pressures and headwinds facing the traditional higher education model, it is essential that PCE units work closely with registrars and other central administrators to develop systems and processes that support a stackable model of education,” said Bruce Etter, Senior Director of Research & Consulting at UPCEA. “This symbiotic relationship will enable institutions to efficiently serve not only traditional students, but also degree completion students as well as professional and continuing education learners."