Back in the day, the continuing education department at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga focused on a hodgepodge of hobbies. In any given semester the list of class offerings might include anything from floral arranging to five-string banjo instruction.
"Continuing ed" classes, as they were called, were a way to build community support — more people on campus meant more potential patrons for higher ed — and to maximize the use of campus facilities.
Center for Professional Education Goals
* Increase the number of participants in professional and career development
* Assess program impact and participant benefit
* Increase the number of programs offered
* Incorporate new technologies
* Use advisory and focus groups to shape programs
Well, set aside the banjo and leave the flowers in the garden. Today's emphasis on lifetime learning at UTC is much more focused on supporting mid-career, white-collar workers and their pursuit of professional development training and task-specific certifications such as "project management."
The Continuing Education department at UTC is even shedding its name for the more expansive moniker: the Center for Professional Education. The unit will also soon be moving from its prosaic digs at aging Pfeiffer Hall on the UTC campus to the gleaming James R. Mapp Building a couple of blocks away.
"It's mostly a response to the strategic plan of the university," says David Rausch, UTC's vice-provost for academic affairs, noting that the university wants to be part of the whole educational life-cycle, not just a place for young adults pursuing a bachelor's degree.
Rausch says today's professionals need periodic retraining in specific skills, accumulating what are known as stackable credentials. Instead of just relying on degree programs such as MBAs — which are still important, Rausch says — universities are learning to offer existing white-collar workers the chance to take an à la carte approach to learning.
"They are saying, 'What I need for this next part of my career, life (or) adventure, is to pursue this (particular subject)," Rausch says.
The Center for Professional Education is commissioned to lead career-development programs in human resources, project management, productivity, information technology, teacher training, health care support, management and supervisory training and corporate training.
John Freeze, director of the center, was tasked with plotting a new mission for the department 18 months ago. Actually, he says the change in emphasis was already underway when he arrived here after a stint at Auburn University. New staff has been hired and trained, and the program's emphasis has already shifted, he says.
"John connects well with everyone," Rausch says. "He sees his mission as to connect rather than to just fulfill a role. He is really a great weaver, and we have a number of threads."
During the Great Recession, American colleges and universities began to focus new energy on retraining and professional development classes to help displaced workers, Freeze said. Continuing education departments were the natural home for such efforts. That meant swinging away from the hobby-based classes that used to be the bread and butter of continuing education.
"Years ago, the model for continuing ed was enrichment," Freeze said. "Those programs, over the last decade, have gone out of favor. As the economy has changed, it became important for UTC to become an economic engine. We have begun focusing on management and leadership."
Freeze said in south-central Alabama, where he worked last, the traditional textile-based economy was transitioning to more tech-oriented automotive manufacturing. This drove a need for Auburn to retrain managers, he said.
KNOWING THE MARKET
Freeze says that for the past year he and his associates have been analyzing the market to determine the biggest training needs for Chattanooga businesses. Unlike Chattanooga State Community College, which concentrates on undergraduate training, the new Center for Professional Education at UTC is looking at what college graduates need to keep current in the labor market.
The group identified project management as an under-served market. There are now 700,000 people with Project Management Professionals certification worldwide, which can boost earnings by up to $15,000 a year. To get certified in project management, workers must accumulate three to five years of experience and sit for 35 hours of training before they take the rigorous exam.
Human resources professions also need continuous retraining to educate themselves about changes in labor law and workplace regulations, Freeze says, and UTC is moving to fill that need.
In one of the most innovated training programs embraced by UTC, the university has become a center for training high school teachers to lead Advanced Placement classes. UTC is the first major public institution in Tennessee to be authorized to host this AP training. Teachers are coming from as far away as Mississippi to take the training, Freeze said.
TEST PREP AND OTHER CALLINGS
The Center for Professional Education is not exclusively for practicing professionals. Test preparation will continue to be a big part of its mission, including ACT and SAT testing for high school students. The Center will also host courses for various graduate school entrance examinations.
Online training for specific topics such as Microsoft Office and grant writing are still being offered. The department also continues to administer UTC's youth university which officers young students access to camp-based learning in subjects such as music, technology and environmental science.
To stay nimble, Freeze says the department has to always open to change.
"This if very much like a start-up company," Freeze says. "We are casting off what we used to do and introducing new ideas."