IFMA

International Facilities Management Association

The Emerging Blend of Degrees, Certification, and Professional Development: Impact on Higher Education

It about the degree, right?

Let me state my point of view of higher education upfront, I am focusing on the student who is interested in obtaining a college degree to improve their employment options. It may be the graduate student or it could be the undergraduate or the student in a community college or technical school that wants to get a promotion, a better position or a raise. Today, it is also more than likely that these are adult students. They have experienced the stress of a difficult economy and observed the rising cost of tuition. A record number of them have taken on student loans and many now face default. Higher education is about the degree, right? The degree has been the path to gaining knowledge, education and better employment. But tens of thousands of students and employers are questioning the perceived value of that degree.

Along came the Internet with free information. Today you can take free online courses from leading universities such as Stanford, Yale, MIT, Harvard, Berkeley and other colleges. Suddenly, what had been the exclusive domain of courses for the purpose of receiving college degrees becomes part of anyone’s opportunity for continuing professional development (CPD). But colleges cannot afford to give away their courses and expect to stay in operation. Community colleges, technical colleges and associations are offering certificates and certifications. These certificates and certifications are becoming widely recognized and accepted by professionals, employers and government agencies. Certification may show a demonstration of advanced knowledge, of a competency, and/or a skill. In some cases the certification has replaced the degree for that person who wants to get that promotion, the better position or a raise and the cost of a certification is generally much less that the college degree.

So, what might we expect for higher education? Well, the college degree is not going to go away. Society still values the college tradition, the credibility and trust the college degree. Most colleges will increase their online education programs and online course offerings. For example, the Boston Architectural College offered the first online Sustainable Design degree and their colleges are searching for their niche. Schools will increasingly offer certification programs and the courses that support those programs. Schools will increase the number of partnerships they develop with professional, technical, and trade associations as well as related businesses and industry. Pratt Institute for example, partners with the International Facilities Management Association (IFMA). offering IFMA credential programs using Pratt IFMA certified faculty.

Two major expenses for a college, the campus and the faculty and online education affect both areas. Online education allows the college to expand their reach to students globally without greatly expanding the cost of a facility or an instructor. Partnering with a business or industry and setting up a satellite facility in an office is becoming a common practice. Online education expands the college faculty’s reach globally, 24/7. The online instructor can offer a lecture to hundreds or thousands at a time. It would be similar the professor offering a class lecture in a large auditorium while discussion groups make it more personalized for the student.

Evaluation and Improvement – An association’s 7th key to quality continuing education

Does your association have participants evaluate each of courses upon completion? Does your association provide evaluations because it is expected? Does your association require course evaluations from each participant before certificates or credit is awarded? Does your association have a systematic approach to annual or semi-annual review of the overall education program? In order to establish a quality education program you should have answered either yes, or working on it to all of these questions. And, if your answer is yes to any of these questions, what do you do with all of that information once it is collected?

I am amazed at how many associations go through all the time and effort to provide some type of evaluation form for participants at the end of the session then do little to even collect the results. At a minimum, the collected information should be used to improve the course content, format, instruction, delivery, and promotion. It should not be used just to determine if participants liked the food, liked the instructor, and that the temperature of the room was OK.

Your association should build a system that continually evaluates all of the courses upon completion. At a minimum you should share all of the information in a detailed summary with your education advisory committee, your faculty, and your staff. Use the information you collect to continually improve your program and courses and to build upon your reputation as an association that offers reliable quality education.

The 6th Key for Associations: Implementation and delivery of continuing education

One advantage of working for an association or non-profit, they have access to their membership data base that stakeholder organizations and marketers often only dream about. While it may be tempting to react with education offerings because a committee or board member has a friend who knows somebody, or they have an interest in a specific topic, please try not to act too quickly. Use your database to do an education need assessment of your members and their clients before saying yes to the committee or board member. Analysis the results of the assessment then develop a plan and design the course. Or just maybe, after analysis of the data you might just say no to the committee or board member. At least the decision or justification will be based upon actual data and not just a reaction.

Once a decision is reached and a plan is drawn up, follow your action plan of implementation and delivery. Association leaders need think in terms of a process that may take 2- 3 years before expecting to see major results. Action plans should include measureable steps throughout the process. Expectations however need to be realistic so be patient and give your plan time to develop and unfold.

At the program level successful associations generally have partners in their education initiative. Keep your lines of communication straightforward and open with your partners. Share information with your partners about what the competition is doing, or about new technology delivery methods. Stay abreast of advocacy or legal issues that may impact your program implementation or delivery directly or indirectly.

There are now four generations in the workplace. Is your association shrinking because new members are not joining? Or growing as the emerging professionals begin to outnumber your long term core members? Add to the mix, diversity in our social structure. Is your association the same core membership that you have experienced for generations? Or are you witnessing a change in membership make-up who hold new points of view? And every association is dealing with a rapid change while members are struggling to accommodate advances in technology. With all of these changes, expectations encourage you to try new and different approaches to delivery. Be flexible in your program implementation. Be flexible in your conference and course delivery methods. But don’t forget to measure progress and adjustments against your plan.

“What Content?”- Associations struggle with the fourth key of a quality education program.

For most small associations the answer is usually “yes.” For many mid-sized associations the answer is “yes, most of the time.” For large associations the answer is, “well, it depends.” The question asked, “Does your association struggle with the fourth key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program?”

The fourth key to developing a quality education program is for the association to develop a systematic approach that will identify the appropriate subject matter content and support a consistent work flow process. Most small associations and many mid-sized associations have great difficulty finding appropriate content for their programs on a continual basis. These associations can be found relying on the same few subject matter experts to provide content and delivery, over and over again. Even well stocked wells have been known to go dry.

Regardless of their size associations still need to establish a reliable, wide based source of new content and materials that will position the association as a supplier of vetted, industry related quality continuing education courses. The source of the education content may be internal, external or a blend of both. Successful continuing education programs develop a systematic approach to identifying, obtaining and monitoring the quality of the education material, how it is processed, designed, developed and delivered. Most associations simply do not have enough resources to do all of these things themselves. However, even for the small associations an appropriate check and balance system can be established using limited resources with involvement of members and stakeholders.

There are a multitude of education formats and delivery models from which an association can choose. Which one is best for the association and their members and stakeholder? Developing clear course learning objectives, when done at the beginning of the process and when done properly will guide the association in selecting the appropriate subject matter experts (SME), the best course design, the appropriate content structure, and the most effective delivery method for a course. If there are any special requirements such as CEU’s, ILU’s, license or certification standards that need to be met then it is critical to insure that a system of safeguards is in place. An established system can be as simple as a check list or as complex as a sophisticated computer metrics.

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Expedition 21 Media, Inc. values quality lifelong education and learning, especially for professional development. Our staff is experienced in course development, course delivery, and new online technologies for educational communities, credential and certification management, and assessment systems.

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