Continuing Education Flourishes in United States
BOSTON — IN the evening, when millions of college students across the United States have returned to their dorms to study for exams or write papers, millions of part-time students like Jaime Jouris are packing their notebooks and heading to the classroom. Ms. Jouris, who received an undergraduate degree in chemistry at Duke University, enrolled in a computer course at the Harvard University Extension School several years ago, after she became unhappy with her job making chemical analyses of artwork at a Boston mu seum. She says, "I wanted to make a complete career change."
She takes two courses a year and she is halfway through the process of earning a certificate of applied science. What she has learned has helped land her a job at a computer company.
As changing technology and rising living costs require workers to learn new skills and search for higher-paying or more-satisfying jobs, an increasing number of adults are streaming into colleges and universities to start or switch careers. It is a trend many educators say will continue as schools aggressively pursue this expanding group.
"I think there are going to be more and more providers of continuing education," says Miriam Williford, associate provost for continuing education and public service at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. "We are learning it is not now possible to get a bachelor's degree in a particular field and think we are set for life. We're probably going to have six different careers. Very few will not require some sort of upgrading and education."
Continuing education includes part-time programs or courses offered to students at the pre- or post-baccalaureate levels for degree or nondegree, credit or noncredit, certificate or some other educational credential.
The part-time student population doubled from less than 3 million in 1970 to some 6.1 million in 1991, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). During this time, part-time enrollments have surged by 122 percent, while full-time enrollments have risen 38 percent, the NCES estimates.
Several factors have fueled this growth:
* Economics. The recession and the steady climb in living costs are sending people who have lost jobs or want to pursue more secure careers back to school. Businesses are also investing more each year in employee education in order to retain qualified workers and help others stay abreast of new technologies, says R. Noah Brown, director of governmental relations and public affairs at the National University Continuing Education Association. In 1990, 91 percent of companies offered tuition reimbursement, and 97 percent plan to by the year 2000, according to an International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans survey.
* Foreign students. Over the last decade, the ranks of international students have ballooned at many universities. At Harvard's summer school, for example, 25 percent are foreign students. "We are no longer an isolated society but are a global community," says Michael Shinagel, dean of the Harvard University Extension School.
* Multiculturalism. Rising numbers of immigrants are enrolling in part-time courses, prompting some colleges to teach English as a second language or courses in other languages. The University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), for example, offers courses and programs in Korean and Mandarin Chinese. "We have been very responsive to issues that are important specifically for Los Angeles, in developing programs for those populations that historically had not thought of us as their resource," says Robert Lapiner, dean of UCLA's continuing education and university extension.
* Women. From 1970 to 1990, the number of women enrolled part time almost tripled, from 1.2 million to 3.6 million, according to the NCES. Stay-at-home mothers and an increase in working women who can attend courses only at night have triggered this growth.
In order to accommodate the part-time student population, colleges have had to make services more user-friendly. Many have added credit card or fax registration, child care, and additional campus security.
Colleges have become sophisticated at marketing part-timers, who have helped institutions survive financially as the pool of traditional-age students shrinks.
Educators say more universities will have to change how they function in order to be more responsive to the needs of part-timers.
UCLA Extension, with about 70,000 part-time students, is the largest continuing-education school in the US. "Continuing education programs, unlike the universities they're connected to, really have a local constituency, because we exist to serve the communities," says Dean Lapiner.