From the CEO

Musings on trends and updates from UPCEA CEO Bob Hansen. 

UPCEA Brand Evolution in an Era of Change

The pandemic upheaval forced rapid adaptation across campuses, accelerating the digital transformation that had been underway for decades. Online and professional education is at the forefront of this transformation, addressing strategic questions about business models and learner needs. In this ever-evolving landscape of higher education, adaptation isn’t just an option; it’s a necessity. UPCEA recognized this imperative and embarked on a transformative journey to redefine its brand identity and mission. This journey began with a critical question posed by our Board of Directors: Does the current UPCEA brand accurately reflect who we are today?

The pandemic-induced migration of campuses to the digital realm triggered profound transformations. Most programs now cater predominantly to online learners, reflecting a trajectory accelerated by the crisis. Irrespective of the organizational structure, most of your programs are now offered largely online in order to meet the needs and preferences of today’s learners, especially those seeking career advancement in one form or another. This, of course, is not a departure from the trajectory of our field. It was an acceleration of trajectory that put digital transformation front and center for campus leadership as they were forced to confront fundamental strategic questions about how best to serve today’s learners. Likewise, professional associations needed to emerge from the pandemic better positioned to meet the evolving needs of their members.

In response to these challenges, UPCEA took proactive measures to support its members and adapt to the evolving landscape. Initiatives such as the creation of online professional development certificates and the introduction of Convergence, a cutting-edge conference on credential innovation held in partnership with AACRAO, underscore UPCEA’s commitment to addressing the changing needs of its community.

In addition, UPCEA assumed management of the Distance Teaching & Learning Conference, a venerable institution hosted by the University of Wisconsin for nearly four decades. This event, now coupled with our Summit for Online Leadership and Administration, has played a pivotal role in fostering collaboration and innovation in the field.

These initiatives, among others, have driven unprecedented growth for UPCEA. To ensure alignment with its current trajectory, UPCEA commissioned its Research & Consulting team to evaluate the resonance of its brand with members and non-members alike. Through member surveys and interviews with senior administrators, UPCEA sought to gauge perceptions and understandings of its role in the evolving landscape of higher education.

Survey respondents were asked how strongly they associate UPCEA with the field’s core areas of focus. Members demonstrated a clear understanding of UPCEA’s role, with an overwhelming 97% of chief online learning officers recognizing UPCEA’s strong focus on online leadership and administration, and 90% acknowledged UPCEA’s importance for their professional development. Additional areas of strength include alternative or microcredentials, marketing and enrollment management, and advocacy for adult and online learners. When asked about the most comprehensive organization in the field of online education, a significant portion of online administrators (60%) and chief online learning officers (70%) identified UPCEA. These findings affirm that our members recognize not just UPCEA’s special role in leadership and administration but in online teaching and learning as well. But a deeper look into perceptions about UPCEA’s role in online education revealed a disconnect between members and nonmembers.

While the majority of leading online providers are UPCEA members, nonmembers appeared less aware of UPCEA’s involvement in online learning. This lack of association with online learning could be attributed to the perception derived from UPCEA’s full name at the time, University Professional and Continuing Education Association, which may have implied a focus solely on professional and continuing education. This posed a challenge because newcomers to online learning often fail to recognize the shared purpose and expertise with professional continuing education units.

But perception is a form of reality, and this disconnect in UPCEA’s brand awareness led us to conclude that the full name of the association no longer represented the full spectrum of who we are today, and where higher education is headed.

We strongly considered but ultimately rejected a complete name change. Rather than confuse the marketplace with yet another name and lose the strong brand awareness we have with our members, we decided to simply drop the full name altogether, and forged ahead with UPCEA as the official name of the association. No longer an acronym, but a name. The name of our association is now simply UPCEA. Additionally, we have refreshed our tagline to “The Online and Professional Education Association.”  This change both underscores our growing role as the most comprehensive organization in the online space and re-affirms our historic leadership in expanding access to higher education with professional programs designed to meet the needs and preferences of today’s learners, especially those seeking career advancement in one form or another. 

Our new positioning statement capitalizes on the twin strands of our profession: a mission to expand access coupled with an entrepreneurial approach to the work: Our members are continuously reinventing higher education, positively impacting millions of lives. We proudly lead and support them through cutting edge research, professional development, networking and mentorship, conferences and seminars, and stakeholder advocacy. Our collaborative, entrepreneurial community brings together decision makers and influencers in education, industry, research, and policy interested in improving educational access and outcomes.

UPCEA’s key focus areas were also reviewed and updated. Each of UPCEA’s Key Focus Areas will include development of relevant content, events, networks, and other resources associated with it.

  1. Leadership in Online Learning
  2. Professional & Continuing Education
  3. Alternative Credentials
  4. Marketing, Enrollment & Student Success
  5. Research & Consulting

This broad range of specialization–this comprehensiveness–is precisely what makes UPCEA such a valuable resource for the field. And make no mistake about it. The success of this field is vital, not only to the future of higher education but to advancing social mobility and economic competitiveness.

UPCEA’s journey of brand evolution serves as a testament to our adaptability and resilience in an era of profound change. It also reaffirms our commitment to driving progress and innovation in higher education for years to come.

A man (Bob Hansen) is dressed in a blue suit smiling for a headshot.

Bob Hansen is the CEO of UPCEA. Since 2010, Hansen has reinvented the century-old organization – creating the Center for Research and Strategy in 2011, establishing a number of initiatives focused on the association’s unique role in online leadership and management, and positioning the association as an important advocate for policy issues related to non-traditional and online learners. The association has more than doubled in size during Hansen’s tenure by successfully diversifying revenue. Hansen previously served as Associate Provost for University Outreach at the University of Southern Maine, and as Assistant to the Governor for Education in Illinois. He holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Notre Dame.