Insights and Advice for Adult Educators: A Conversation with Jim Fong

 Jim Fong, with UPCEA, is the Director of the Center for Research and Marketing Strategy. We asked Jim to share his thought on trends in higher education and where we should be focused right now. Below, you can see the questions we posed and his answers.

1.) What’s the trend in higher education that you have your eye on right now?

By far, we are entering a major demographic, technological and societal shift that combined, has significant implications on higher education.  We are seeing signs of it right now, but many leaders in higher education are either naïve to it or are ignoring, thinking that the only form of higher education is the bachelors, masters or doctoral degrees.  In just the past five years, mobile technology has changed not only the way we shop, how we drive and how we communicate, but it has transformed learning.  The next big societal thing will be robotics, artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles and data mining.  The combination and interdependence of these technologies will move fast and has picked up speed.  It will cause major labor shifts, which in turn will create new educational content and delivery opportunities.  This will also accelerate the need for alternative credentials, as business and industry may not require many employees to have a four year degree for certain jobs.  Couple this with the fact that Millennials are coming into power and prefer smaller bundles in much of what they do. Those institutions that are investing in alternative credentialing should be well-positioned, while those that resist will find themselves at a disadvantage.  We saw similar examples of this ten years ago, as many institutions resisted offering online education.

2.) What do you see as the biggest threat that continuing education and graduate departments face?

Related to the impending technological and societal shifts, professional, continuing and online education (PCO) units will be challenged when they deviate from the norm or try to innovate with certificates and badges.  The traditional cultures at colleges and universities may stifle the need create new educational paths for adult and corporate learners.  In addition, in the short-run, continuing and professional educational units are now beginning to adapt to the new adult learner.  The adult learner is no longer the mid-thirties individual with some college credit seeking a bachelor’s degree and needing high levels of support to migrate complex university systems.  The new adult learner will be a potentially younger adult who is more brand-conscious and technology-savvy and who may already have but seeks additional education to stay relevant in the workforce.  Many professional, continuing and online education units see a different adult and as a result do not have their systems and processes ready.

3.) Where do you think CE and graduate units are wasting money and where would you like to see more money spent?

There is wasted resources or money and then there is not knowing when and how to invest strategically.  What I see is many units not knowing where to invest that will actually generate revenue.  For example, at some institutions or units, the lack of a professional and well-supported customer relationship management system creates inefficiencies that are actually more costly in personnel and marketing expenses.  As a result, the senior leader of a PCO unit does not have a dashboard or reliable metrics that can inform budgeting and staffing decisions.  Related to this, another area of waste or inefficiency is knowledge of true digital marketing.  Again, back to investment, many marketing units are lean and mean and leaders do not know how to grow the marketing department.  As a result, I feel that many PCO marketing units lack the resources, staff or the know-how to stay current with changing and evolving digital technologies.”

4.) What do you think is the most exciting thing happening in higher ed?

Back to my earlier statement … while there are major changes happening, higher education has an opportunity to challenge itself again.  It took us the better part of a decade, but higher education adapted to online learning opportunities and in many cases abandoning many weekend college or evening programs.  Now we have to adapt education to the new generation of workers, managers and leaders using technology only seen in movies.  While I am critical of higher education being too steeped in tradition, I am excited for the new leaders developing in professional, continuing and online education and their meeting at the crossroads with maturing Millennials and the great things that will happen between the two.