You may not realize the largest local class providers in your area have existed for decades. They’re community & continuing education programs at community colleges.
In California alone, there are 113 community colleges in 72 community college districts. It is the largest system of higher education in the world, comprising 2.4 million+ students. (See also: California Community College Chancellor's Office (CCCCO)
So, yep, you guessed it, I plan to speak of them a lot. Part of why is rooted in my professional experience, and the other is driven by what I perceive to be their untapped power.
For an instructor wanting to connect to a new audience, or an online learning provider/edtech company looking to cultivate meaningful inroads into higher education, this is the place to be.
Colleges are large and difficult to navigate for those on the outside looking in. (Ever see this movie? They’re kind of like that.)
The great challenge for those wanting to propose a course or partner is finding the entity within an institution that shares some of the same values as they do. All too often the internal workings of a college campus are confusing and challenging to navigate.
My suggestion: start with community & continuing education programs.
1. In the context of the college, CE units are relatively autonomous, specialize in revenue-generation and control the variables that allow them to run like a business.
At many community colleges in the United States, continuing education departments are designed to target the students who are not served by the college’s core mission of transfer/vocation. These populations often range from youth/teens to working professionals to older adults.
Because of their mission to support the nontraditional student, CE units tend to operate as a relatively autonomous entity at colleges and control many of the variables that allow them to move far more quickly than other areas. Some of these ‘variables’ may include:
- the use of a separate registration system to enroll students (for example, Augusoft - yes, there is such a thing as a lifelong learning management system),
- the ability to create and schedule their own classes,
- hire instructors, contractors, and professional experts to teach short workshops and seminars,
- as well as plan and implement their own marketing plans.
Instead of having to involve six different departments to schedule a course, find a location, market the course to students, and enroll them, everything is housed within one single department.
Because CE departments are largely self-supporting and laser-focused on revenue generation, their values align far more closely with entrepreneurially-minded instructors and edtech companies who might seek to partner.
The one caveat: make sure what you propose (a class, program or service) possesses a tangible benefit to the greater community of the school. Don’t connect with the sole intent of mining for students or data.
2. CE programs are able to negotiate/translate the inner workings of an institution and are skilled in acquiring content/making partnerships.
What one needs to understand is that many CE programs possess a dual purpose. First, they function as a profit center often working both externally with outside groups (including instructors, trainers, and third-party vendors) AND internally with instructional departments in assisting them create revenue streams.
Second, they can also function as an incubator to determine the viability of a course or program - and, if/when deemed successful, these courses and programs may transition into instructional departments who are able to offer them for credit. Conversely, they can re-engineer credit programs and turn them into alternate sources of revenue.
The lesson you should take from here is one of translation. CE programs have DEEP institutional knowledge and are far more fluent in how to move things through a campus’ organizational structure.
3. CE programs represent a powerful distribution pathway for both course providers and instructors looking to offer their services/classes.
CE departments have grown over the course of many years within the schools and communities they inhabit. These are not fly-by-night operations here one day and gone tomorrow. These outfits have built deep, lasting connections and are widely regarded as a massive outreach arm into the surrounding community. In many cases, their marketing reach is significant, producing tens of thousands of print catalogs in a given year, as well as promoting themselves online through email, social media, and other ad campaigns.
By working with them as an instructor, your course, program or service will likely gain a level of credibility it otherwise wouldn’t if you had elected to go it alone.
What community colleges exist in your area? Do they have continuing education programs you can teach at? Let me know if you need help figuring this out.
We’ll discuss in a future post how best to evaluate a local class provider and the kinds of questions you should ask to ensure they can attract the course audience you seek.