The Changing Landscape for Professional and Continuing Education in the U.S.

changing PCE landscape

With advancements in computing and the Internet, higher education saw a major transformation in the late 1990’s and into the new millennium. With online education, regional boundaries and service areas soon disappeared and institutions of higher education began competing more directly with one another. With greater competition, the degree and higher education experience was quickly changing as power began shifting toward the student-consumer and towards those campuses that built out their online infrastructure and increased their tuition income. We are witnessing a significant redistribution of enrollments and revenue, as institutions are no longer secure in their local monopolies and regional dominance.

As tuition continues to rise along with a growing concern that degree programs may be out of touch with student and employer needs, future students and decision-makers in business and industry are now more willing than ever to try new modes of higher education. The acceleration toward institutional change increased along with changing economies, shifting demographics and new technologies.

Over the past decade, the traditional continuing education unit soon found itself at risk of becoming obsolete and marginalized, shedding names such as “lifelong learning,” “adult education,” or “extended learning,” in favor of schools or units that unify professional, continuing and online education (PCO).

As Millennials move into corporate decision-making roles or to positions of leadership regarding educational standards, it is likely that the portfolio that a PCO unit offers as well as how education is delivered will evolve. The chart below shows that the U.S. has seen a drop in post-secondary enrollment rates despite higher high school graduation rates. This paper reflects some possibilities and scenarios to consider regarding those factors impacting higher education participation and the increasingly vital role of professional, continuing and online higher education.

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