UPCEA Hallmarks Of Excellence In Professional And Continuing Education


Professional and continuing education (PCE) can mean something very different from institution to institution. Some schools of professional and continuing education encompass both credit and noncredit programs, some only noncredit programs—and still others are degree-granting entities within their universities. Some oversee their own full-time faculty, while others depend on faculty throughout their institutions and adjunct faculty drawn from local industry and professions. Some focus exclusively on older, part-time learners; others are multi-generational. Some PCE units serve their local communities, while others reach far beyond their regions within the United States and abroad. Some reside entirely on their main campuses; others extend to corporate and satellite locales as well. Some oversee their institution’s distance learning efforts; others are clients to other organizations on campus.

No other academic entity in American university structure is as elastic or as varied in its portfolio and purpose as the PCE unit. But these variances should not mask the commonalities of professional and continuing educators. These Hallmarks of Excellence seek to define and develop these commonalities—and advocate an all-encompassing view of this increasingly critical component of higher education in the United States. The authors presume that those institutions that extend and empower their PCE leaders are all the richer for this faith and commitment.

Above all else, professional and continuing education is dedicated to the adult learner. While few PCE leaders are responsible for all programming that targets older, part-time students, their resounding voice on campus is critical. Professional and continuing education leaders extend the reach of their institutions through new audiences, programs, and means of delivery. Their passion for innovation disrupts the status quo. Their spirit of generosity branches out across their institutions and offsets the fragmentation and isolation that can jeopardize coalitions and collaboration, undermining common purpose. Their multidisciplinary perspective embraces campus partnerships and the pursuit of new fields of study, which often transcend their university’s current capabilities. They combine idealism and pragmatism. They offer entrepreneurial instincts, marketing savvy, and business acumen that allow new initiatives to flourish.

These Hallmarks of Excellence presume that professional and continuing education is central, pervasive, and critical within institutions of higher learning—crossing internal boundaries and extending external ones, promoting change, and responding to current dynamics that convert challenges into opportunities. Wiser leaders of higher learning inevitably turn to their PCE units to uncover new possibilities for their institutions. Academia’s current crises could—and should—bring a renewed focus on professional and continuing education as a source of solutions. This is a key inflection moment where professional and continuing education will either move more into the spotlight or retreat into the shadows. The success of the nation’s academic institutions depends on the paths that are taken.

These Hallmarks of Excellence are an opportunity to define a set of standards that reflect the ambitions, potential, and importance of the PCE unit’s work—standards few achieve often enough to be complacent. Commitment to mission, enrollments, innovation, and academic excellence are the inseparable aspirations of professional and continuing educators.

Mission: A Prelude to Hallmarks of Excellence

A mission is the critically important statement where a professional and continuing education unit proclaims its very reason to exist—this is what we are here to do. The mission should reflect the overarching values and brand of the institution—and, at the same time, define the motivating vision for professional and continuing education. This statement helps faculty and staff understand their contributions within the larger objectives, and enables prospective students, employers, and partners to assess their fit within the enterprise. The mission provides the foundation and guiding principles for determining strategic priorities, organizational structure, resources, and bases for assessment.

This mission must also align with contemporary societal and economic realities, as well as changes within the university community. Thus, this statement should be revisited and reimagined periodically to be able to measure success and ensure that the enterprise is meeting its objectives. The PCE mission can expand, contract, or evolve to accommodate internal and external drivers of change.

There are several components unique to the PCE mission:

  • Function describes the directives of the school (i.e., professional or executive education programs, liberal arts, or technical training).
  • Target audience identifies the learner population served by PCE programs or services.
  • Values articulate the basic beliefs and priorities of the unit: how and why it conducts its work and pursues its vision.
  • Public image defines how the PCE unit sees itself within the parent college or university and among its peers and competitors, its target audience, and its key constituents.

When formulating the mission statement, consider the following:

  • Is the institution public, private, nonprofit, or for-profit? How does this impact the mission, goal setting, strategic planning, and decision-making?
  • What are the perspectives of university leaders, current students, alumni, faculty, staff, and external partners? How should these perspectives impact the mission of professional and continuing education?
  • How agile should this statement be? Should new educational models, emerging needs, and external changes impact the resilience of the mission?

Excellent Practices—Seven Pillars

Our goal is to articulate the purposes of a professional and continuing education enterprise, not to dictate how it should be organized. We focus on function, less so structure. We define seven pillars of these Hallmarks, as well as several themes that cross these pillars. We challenge current PCE leaders to measure their progress within these various dimensions. We challenge their institution’s leaders to do likewise. And we encourage both to raise their expectations for what is possible—and achievable.

  1. Internal Advocacy: Recognizing that professional and continuing education, by its very nature, reflects all facets of the institution, its leaders must build credibility, alliances, and partnerships that further its mission and purpose.
  2. Entrepreneurial Initiative: Recognizing that professional and continuing education must embrace innovation, experimentation, and new initiatives, its leaders must have the skills and imagination to facilitate responsible change.
  3. Faculty Support: Recognizing that academic excellence is the lifeblood of any educational enterprise, leaders in professional and continuing education must build a strong cadre of faculty enveloped with the tools to succeed.
  4. Student Support: Recognizing that student diversity requires a deep understanding of the adult learner and the various populations that professional and continuing education serves, its leaders must be strong advocates for those services that foster learning and student success.
  5. Digital Technology: Recognizing that technology is integral to the modern PCE unit, its leaders must provide a technological environment that is current, dependable, and capable of enhancing education, administration, and outreach.
  6. External Advocacy: Recognizing that professional and continuing education extends its mission and message far beyond campus walls, its leaders must serve as an authoritative voice to external stakeholders in government, industry, local communities, and elsewhere.
  7. Professionalism: Recognizing that dynamic organizations are grounded in professional integrity, leaders in professional and continuing education must exemplify an unwavering commitment to high standards of excellence, ethics, and ideals that elevate their units to the level of respect and renown expected of a thriving academic institution.
UPCEA Hallmarks of Excellence in Professional and Continuing Education

Special thanks to the contributors to the UPCEA Hallmarks of Excellence in Professional and Continuing Education:

Debbie Cavalier, Berklee College of Music
Thomas Gibbons, Northwestern University
Jay Halfond (chair), Boston University
Hunt Lambert, Harvard University
Richard Novak, Rutgers University
Kelly Otter, Georgetown University
James Pappas, University of Oklahoma
Sandi Pershing, University of Utah
Emily Richardson, Queens University of Charlotte
James Schaeffer, Old Dominion University
Reed Scull, University of Wyoming
Karen Sibley, Brown University
Diana Wu, University of California, Berkeley