Politics, policy, and socio-economic impact on continuing higher education
Stephenson, Sandria Shawn
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Serving as corroborator and catalyst, linking needs to stakeholders and programs, yet doing so within their traditional setting, is the crucial “story” of continuing higher education. Hence, inquiries related to the reevaluation of the historical mission and value of continuing higher education, in the changing political-economic climate of higher education, are necessary. The purpose of this study was to examine continuing education’s strategic responses to the political-economic context of higher education. The research questions guiding the study were: 1) what do university administrators see as the current political, social, and economic challenges facing continuing higher education 2) what is the role of continuing education in responding strategically to the current challenges facing their institutions and 3) what do university administrators see as the return on investment of those strategic responses? The study used a qualitative methodology to examine seventeen respondents’ experiences and perceptions of continuing education within eight traditional universities. These respondents were higher education administrators who had direct responsibilities or connections to continuing education. Interviews and documents provided the data that were analyzed using constant comparative analysis; while the theory of academic capitalism served as the theoretical framework for the study. The results of this study show that: First, continuing education is an academic capital advantage, providing greater returns to higher education than the investment made in supporting its strategic position. Second, entrepreneurialism, as a strategy within continuing education, is limited in classical applicability and scope relative to higher education’s traditional cultural-context. Third, continuing education units are disenfranchised with respect to shared governance. These governance constraints are meant to “protect” the parent institutions’ cultural values, and branding. Fourth, continuing education’s organizational processes identify several political, social and economic challenges that must be addressed strategically, if they are to achieve their mission.