Illumination by Modern Campus

Leonard Rivera (Del Mar College) on Enriching Communities through Continuing Education for a Lifetime

April 11, 2024 Modern Campus
Leonard Rivera (Del Mar College) on Enriching Communities through Continuing Education for a Lifetime
Illumination by Modern Campus
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Illumination by Modern Campus
Leonard Rivera (Del Mar College) on Enriching Communities through Continuing Education for a Lifetime
Apr 11, 2024
Modern Campus

On today’s episode of the Illumination by Modern Campus podcast, podcast host Shauna Cox was joined by Leonard Rivera to discuss the evolution of continuing education within community colleges and strategies to get institutional buy-in for CE support. 

Show Notes Transcript

On today’s episode of the Illumination by Modern Campus podcast, podcast host Shauna Cox was joined by Leonard Rivera to discuss the evolution of continuing education within community colleges and strategies to get institutional buy-in for CE support. 

Shauna Cox (00:03):Leonard, welcome to the Illumination podcast. It's great to be chatting with you.

Leonard Rivera (00:07):Thanks, Shauna. I appreciate the opportunity to be here with you today. It's always great to talk about the innovations of continuing education across our community colleges located here, not only in Texas, but the United States.

Shauna Cox (00:22):Absolutely. So as you mentioned, we're here to talk about the state of continuing education and recently modern campus and partnership with the Evolution recently released their report on the state of continuing education in 2024. So in our report we've seen a 15% increase in the past two years when it comes to the support and buy-in for CE from senior leadership. So turning it over to you, how have you seen that support for CE and buy-in from senior leadership kind of evolve in recent years?

Leonard Rivera (00:53):That's a great question. It provides an opportunity to provide some perspective to folks that are listening to this podcast. Continuing education probably has evolved over the last 25, 30 years from really being a part of the college's lifelong learning arm. In other words, offering the community at large opportunities to come back and just keep involved with the love of learning, whether that be through enrichment of the language or literature or through personal fitness type programs. But it's evolved from that perspective or from that point to what it is today, which has now really become more of America's workforce development arm of community colleges. So I've been with, the college that I work with is Delmar College, located in Corpus Christi, Texas. Been with Delmar for over 26 years. I started in continuing education and in that time period back in 1998, I can assure you that continuing education was not well known at the college.

(02:10):It was not even recognized as part of the college for the most part. We were clearly pretty much the orphans of the college population at that time. But we've evolved over the time that as we've seen opportunities evolve with short term training opportunities to move folks' careers so that they could have sustainable careers and maybe even gain marketable skills. Now we're seeing now 26 years later as the building arm of our coastal bands workforce. And so now we are able to train and upskill and reskill folks in a lot of different types of careers, whether that be in process technology, whether that be in some type of computer science or cybersecurity, just a different or a vari of different types of career fields. So it's a great question. It always provides me some perspective of where I've been and where I'm at now.

Shauna Cox (03:21):Absolutely. And I find that when it comes to continuing education and that support that they get in, it can vary across institutions. Some people are very for it, it's still centralized, things like that. And there are still people who might not fully comprehend the role and the value that CE may have at their institution. So it's definitely different depending on where you are. So this may apply to you, this may apply to other people, but what are some of the challenges that you are that you're seeing across the space? The challenges that CEEs are facing when it comes to that support and buy-in from leadership

Leonard Rivera (04:09):Again, the buy-in by our senior leaders, at least at my college, has been nothing showay of extraordinary, at least in the last 15 to 20 years. And that's primarily because in the field of continued education, it's evolved into more of this reskill upskill workforce development type of training arm of the college. And I think colleges now see this as a opportunity to not only enriching their mission that they serve within their communities, but also as a way to receive some ancillary funding or revenues to add to their bottom line. And so I think in my opinion, community colleges grasp of continuing education has become more embraced. It's become more involved by our senior leaders. It's seen now as an opportunity to again enriching not only the students and the community's outreach of workforce development, it's also seen as an economic development driver of a one's community or area that they are in.

(05:43):And I feel that that's going to be ultimately what senior leadership looks at. They want to be able to grow their respective colleges. They want to be able to grow enrollment, they want to be able to sustain enrollment and also have completions. And one thing I would add is that continued education, since we're structured, not like the academic arm of the colleges where they go on a semester by semester basis, IE fall, spring, summer, continued education is structured in a way that we meet the needs of a community or a client's needs when needed. And so we're able to structure short-term training programs and get these folks in and out within a few weeks, a few months, and get 'em right back into the workforce and or in some cases get 'em trained enough so they can become part of the workforce. And I believe that's a big selling point for a lot of the senior leaders is they embrace CE and they see more of these types of opportunities. Corporations and other organizations really love the continued education mission of the college.

Shauna Cox (06:59):Absolutely. And you alluded to the absolute value of CE there and what it can provide for the institution. So for some of those who, those CE leaders who might be struggling a little bit when it comes to the buy-in, what are some best practices for them to use to help get that buy-in from senior leadership that helps 'em to scale and resource their initiatives? Because obviously their initiatives are so critical right now in the world of upskilling and reskilling and providing that talent pipeline for the workforce.

Leonard Rivera (07:34):Absolutely. Yeah. Some of the strategies, again, I always say that Feena is believing and the data speaks volumes. And so as far as strategies are concerned, I think number one, it's really supporting and really ensuring the structure of one's continuing education program is going to be well supported by a community college or a college in general. What I mean by that is that it's not just going to be a department that is under a lot of layers of other departments and it's kind of hidden away in a compartment that no one really sees, like it was for me back 26 years ago. And I think that senior leaders need to be able to have a vision and have a plan and really execute that so that the continu education area division, whatever it is that they want to set up, is going to be structured with a robust budget.

(08:44):They're able to have the ability to hire a great talent or staff to oversee the department or the division. They're able to in turn also engage with business and industry represented industry leaders within the area and identify what kind of needs the business or industry representatives are really needing so that they could also further their businesses. And that also creates a partnership between the college and business and industry after all. Isn't that what we want? We want to be at the partnership table with business and industry as colleges. So I believe those type of inroads, those type of partnerships and collaborations are going to be essential strategies to ensure the successful launch of a continued education program or sustain a continued education program at one's college.

Shauna Cox (09:43):Absolutely. And I kind of want to expand on that a little bit because you mentioned previously senior leadership's interests, especially in a CE unit when it comes to the value add economically that they have on the institution. So what impact does that support of senior leadership have on the CE unit and their initiatives and maybe where CE begins to sit within that institutional strategy?

Leonard Rivera (10:13):Yeah, it's a good question. Also provide some perspective on that is that again, at one time we weren't at the table at all and now we come 26 years plus later, and we were front and center at the table, at least at my community college. And then sitting there with the executive team and the cabinet of the president is an opportunity that I don't take lightly. And I think it's about how senior leadership or the president or the cabinet embraces continued education. It's having everyone think outside that box, that proverbial box I think is so important. I think sometimes or many times, community colleges, they kind of set themselves as one dimensional type of colleges. In other words, purely academic programming structured in other words, which is very important. I'm not saying that's not important, but a lot of the community colleges are looking at the conferral of academic degrees, whether that be in English or that being poli-sci or that being some type of STEM related field.

(11:25):And those are all important, very, very important. And also the two plus two transfer programs to universities and all like. But I think with that being said, many of the folks that may sit in these positions may not understand continuing education in the way they need to. And so again, they go in there kind of not knowing and one dimensional, and I think they had to open up and think outside the box to be multi-dimensional in that there's more than one way to educate a community. There's more than one way to become more successful at growing one's community through economic development. And economic development is really garnered through education or higher education. And so it's very important to look at those types of strategies or those types of opportunities that maybe have not been looked at before. And I believe it's just sometimes working with the administration or working with the cabinet to inform them or educate them on what opportunities lie ahead with regard to community education.

Shauna Cox (12:39):Absolutely. And I know that you mentioned your CE unit sits at the table, which is fantastic to have it centralized and very critical to the future of the institution and where it's going and how it's serving its learners. Yes. So taking a step back, how do you see that role of CE evolving maybe across the higher ed space within institutional strategies in the coming years?

Leonard Rivera (13:06):Yeah. One thing that has been something that has been a new evolution or innovation is the ability for continuing education because we're very nimble. I mean, if we talk about continuing educate, who I would like to think that community educate whos are very nimble and very creative beings. And so one thing that we've done is just recently in fact, our college, Delmar College was a finalist at the Bellwether Consortium or conference that was held in San Antonio, Texas about a month ago. And the bellwether is about best practices, is about best in innovation. It's not just about seed, it's just about just best practices, period. And we were recognized for our stackable credentials process, and this stemmed out of continuing education. Just one great example. And so what we're doing here is we're taking folks that otherwise may not have the ability through academic background or development, they might not have the war with all to want to sustain themselves to two or three or four years of education at a college or university.

(14:29):They want to be able to go into the workforce immediately. And so we developed this process by which we could on ramp folks, whether they have no high school diploma, whether they have a GED, whether they have a high school diploma, or whether they have some college under their belt, whether they have a college degree or not. And we're able to on ramp these folks through the continuing education process, get re-skilled or skilled and properly developed and short order. And what we are able to do is work within our internal faculty and program chairs and deans and such and provide these opportunities so that the folks that are in these programs earn, it's kind of like an intermediate credential value. It's occupational skills award, which can be garnered under the auspices of community education, at least here in Texas. And then what it happens now, we are able to work out the process by which these credits or these experiences could be matriculated or they could be transferred into an academic program of study.

(15:44):And so if a person says, I want to be a process technologist that works at a refinery and works in process technology realm, they could actually start in CE and they become employable at the end of that short-term training program. And now they could go forward and go into, say, a level one certificate, a level two certificate, and then eventually get an associate's degree from Delmar College without losing traction towards that goal of getting an associate's degree. And so it gets folks employed now as opposed to two or three years later. It also provides folks the ability to take in education as they can handle it. Sometimes a person may look at a degree plan and here's, in Texas 60 credit hours is what it typically takes to earn a associate's degree. And if you give that degree plan to someone, they look at that and it's like, it's a tall order to fill, right?

(16:48):I mean, they just almost lose their motivation because they had to take so many classes and they already see, I have a family to feed, I have to do this, I got to do that. I don't have time to go to school for four years or two years or three years, but we give it to 'em in chunks that they could handle, and now it becomes doable and they become successful. So stackable credentials is something that has been developed through continuing education. We're very proud of that at Delmark College. It's something that it's looked at as a national model, if you will. And again, that's just one prime example that I could tell you or share with your listeners as to what continuing education can do for community colleges.

Shauna Cox (17:32):Absolutely. And your unit there is kind of blending the best of both worlds for the learners and the institution because you're meeting learners where they are and what they need right then and there. Then at the same time, the broader institution isn't going, oh, well, you're taking them and hiding them or just meeting their need because it's stackable. The student is coming back and is building that relationship with you guys and can eventually make that or earn that associate's degree, which is what they want in the end, or what you guys want. So it's amazing to have that flexibility and congratulations on your recognition. That's amazing of what you guys are doing. Everything that you're talking about right there, I'm like, we could dive into a whole other podcast episode into what you're doing alone with the stackable credentials. So that's amazing to see. Well, Leonard, that's actually everything that we have for you, but before we let you go, we're going to need a restaurant recommendation. Now you are in Corpus Christi, Texas. That's right. And where would you recommend someone to eat if they're in town?

Leonard Rivera (18:34):Well, Corpus Christi is located near Beaches and Water, the Gulf of Mexico, and in particular Corpus Christi Bay. And so when you think of water, many folks think of seafood. And so we have a locally owned seafood restaurant called Water Street Oyster Bar, and so they're locally owned and by the Lomax family and Lomax family, well, actually, Mr. Lomax himself actually is an alum of Delmar College. But not only that, but he and his son and his family have really developed a great restaurant business. And so Water Street Oyster Bar located on Water Street, by the way, in downtown Corpus Christi, Texas, is a place that I would highly recommend folks to go out and try and enjoy. And you'll see that Mr. Lomax and his family have an array of different types of fresh seafood that is caught right out the door of their restaurants, and he even works closely with conservationists to grow oysters. So he's into that almost. Well, so try 'em out. You really, really appreciate it. You'll enjoy the atmosphere and you'll enjoy the food, more importantly.

Shauna Cox (20:07):Absolutely. Top choice. Amazing. Sounds great. Thank you so much, Leonard, for joining us. Oh, you're

Leonard Rivera (20:11):Welcome. You're welcome. Very much