How to Get the University to Rally Around CE’s Potential With Dr. Jim Shaeffer

How to Get the University to Rally Around CE’s Potential With Dr. Jim Shaeffer

Imagine if you could wave a magic wand and remake the continuing education space?

  • University leadership would look to the CE model with nothing but awe and admiration — then replicate it across the institution
  • Credits between certificates, two- and four-year programs would be seamless and interoperable
  • Federal funding would be flexible and appropriately transferable based on student need rather than type of institution

Those are exactly the type of big ideas Meni and Dr. Jim Shaeffer, President of Eastern Shore Community College, riff on in Episode 02 of the Education Beyond Degrees podcast.

When it comes to continuing education, Jim has held pretty much every title there is — instructional designer and professor, dean, vice president, chief information officer, vice provost and now, president of the Virginia-based community college.

And that’s what makes him uniquely qualified to share his perspectives on what’s happening in the continuing education space.

Grab your coffee and a notebook and be prepared to get inspired.

You can tune in above 👆on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, the RSS feed or anywhere you get your podcasts.

On this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How to get buy-in from presidents and their cabinets about the value of continuing education [Hint: It involves data.]
  • Why it’s best when the mission of the continuing education division aligns to the larger mission of the college (and what happens when there’s not a mission)
  • Where continuing education is going post-COVID
  • How life on campus seems a bit more personal at a community college, and why that improves student outcomes
  • Why it’s never been more important for community colleges and four-year universities to prioritize transferring students 

What to listen for:

  • [0:28] Just how does one go from continuing education professor to university president?  Jim shares his career path.
  • [6:15] Throwback alert: The time Jim inherited a group piano class where they kept all their student records and tuition in a cigar box. 🤣
  • [8:10] What people don’t realize about continuing education at community colleges versus universities in terms of mapping back to an organizational mission.
  • [9:35] Lessons about targeting your audience from Jim’s experience serving a rural community, with many households below the poverty line or part of the working poor. 
  • [10:47] How being a president (versus a dean) has informed Jim’s view of the continuing education landscape.
  • [12:30] Why continuing education is uniquely positioned to close the gap between the predicted “K-shaped” recovery pattern post-COVID.
  • [13:50] Mistakes many continuing education leaders make when trying to manage up with a president or provost to get buy-in. 
  • [15:18] How to approach the conversation with leadership by steering the discussion away from profitability and toward measuring the total impact toward the mission.
  • [18:16] Now that higher education has demonstrated it can move quickly based on  its response to COVID, what can we expect in the future?
  • [21:24] What exactly happens behind the scenes with partnerships between community colleges and their four-year counterparts.  
  • [24:17] Lessons on the types of roles companies will be looking to hire for in the future and how we, as continuing educators, can fill that pipeline.
  • [25:06] Why the number-one goal for every educator should be ensuring students have complete interoperability between schools, degrees and certifications.
  • [26:00] Making Pell grants and GI Bill funding resources available to workforce development program enrollees.
  • [28:20] The “one student at a time” approach to innovating in continuing education and why we’re so good at sharing best practices as an industry.
  • [29:36] A tip from one of Jim’s go-to leadership books, Good to Great, along with what he hopes his legacy in continuing education will be.

Links from the episode👇👇

Jim Shaeffer’s LinkedIn
Eastern Shore Community College
Good to Great, Jim’s recommended reading on leadership
Meni’s LinkedIn
The Education Beyond Degrees Homepage

Transcript from the episode

*Today’s weather has 100% chance of some spelling errors in the AI-powered transcript below. Hope you won’t hold it against me! 

Meni

Jim, thank you so much for joining me today on this podcast. I’m really excited to talk to you. 

Jim

Thank you. This is, quite honestly, I’m humbled by the opportunity. So thanks!

Meni

Jim and I met a while ago at a conference and we learned that we had quite a bit in common from Jim living in Chicago and our continuing education background. So I’m really excited to talk about Jim as a president.

I have yet to have a long conversation with what he does, but let’s just start with Jim, talk about your career, what got you to where you are today from CE to being the president. 

Jim

You know, I appreciate that question because when I was preparing for our conversation, Meni, I was trying to figure out how the hell I got here. And the first thing is, I’m glad I got to where I am.

But so many other people, my colleagues, your colleagues, sometimes we fall into the continuing education area. My expertise, at least according to my educational background is really instructional design. And where I found myself, out of graduate school, was working with faculty to use technology and it just happened to be in a continuing education unit. 

And so, it’s not as if I was at a university and said, I want to go into continuing ed. But boy it turned out to be a great fit. So I started out working with faculty developing courses, and then we went and started to develop full programs at a distance.

I was able to move up in the organization that became director of what we called credit programs that allowed me to do a bit more than simply concentrating on the technology itself. And then through many changes at the University of Wyoming, I ended up to be the Dean/Director of the School of Extended Studies and Public Service.

So, and again, it was by happenstance that these things, but I happened to be in the right place at the right time. So I started at the University of Wyoming and then we, my wife and I moved to North Dakota, University of North Dakota, primarily to take care of Peggy’s dad, who at that point had been diagnosed with cancer.

But as fate would have it, here I am at the University of North Dakota and I ended up becoming the first CIO of the University of North Dakota; becoming Associate Vice President and Dean of Continuing Education. And at that point, and I’m not too sure why they thought I had the expertise, but started to launch online programs.

And, you know, with the big thing was it wasn’t offering just courses again, it was offering programs. And then we finally moved East and found ourselves at James Madison University. And very strange, may talk more about this in this conversation, but I went from having an organization of about 60 people to an organization that had 1.75.

And so that was where I reinvented Jim Shaeffer and invented a new program at James Madison, where, when I left that we’d gotten from 1.75 to over 22 [full-time employees]. And then I came down to Old Dominion University, which had just launched a new college, the College of Continuing Education, Professional Development.

And we spent five years launching that, that college. And I will tell you that the expectations financially for the college far exceeded our ability to meet them. And so it was clear that we were not going to be able to continue after five years. And so I was at a point where I had three job offers, one of them being retirement and the other two, one being the presidency of Eastern Shore Community College.

And that’s what I, that’s what I latched on to. So we’re talking about 36, 37 years of experience and CE, and now applying that to a small, rural college and a sparsely populated area. So, probably more than you ever wanted to know Meni, but there it is. 

Meni

What a path. So I’m really interested when, before you became the president of the college, and I know as CE professionals, we always talk about CE in a different way to our own administrators and try to, almost have to sell them on what CE is. If you could take yourself back, you know, think five years. Oh, actually let’s go back to James Madison. Think about that era. If you were trying to sell the importance of CPE or I think it’s PCE, at James Madison, if you were trying to sell the importance of that to the president or to the president’s cabinet, how do you think you would’ve pitched PCE back then?

Jim

Actually the way that I pitched it, quite honestly, they gave me the opportunity to be a consultant. And asking me to find out, was there a need for PCE on that campus. And so I did a number of interviews with faculty and constituents off-campus and the data was there. That there was a pent up demand on the part of the faculty, many of them already doing it. But there just wasn’t anyone who was putting their arms around it. You know, one of the deep dark secrets of that time was that. I had left my job at the University of North Dakota and basically had moved to JMU unemployed.

And so as a good consultant I gave them the data and I indicated that not only should you be doing this, but you should hire somebody just like me. And as it turns out, that’s exactly what they did. Then after we got it established, it really was a matter of helping to see how PCE could fulfill the mission of the institution; the mission of each of the colleges; the mission of each department and faculty member particularly related to being an engaged institution. 

And it really was a very easy sell because they just didn’t have the apparatus on campus to be able to gear up to do these things. One of the things I’ll tell you, we started so small that one of the programs we offered happened to be, of all things, group piano lessons.

And I inherited a program where they were still doing everything out of a cigar box. And so, you know, it was pretty easy to take the cigar box and actually put it into an Excel spreadsheet where we could show the auditors that this is what we were doing with the money. So I hope that answers your question.

Meni

It does. And, you know, we have some colleagues and friends that are, that work at JMU that, you know, we both know. And I know that your reputation there and what you did at JMU is just unbelievable. That organization now is just huge and that university has such buy-in to what they do in PCE now.

And it takes that type of leadership to, to know that they could invest in there. Right? And you came in such a perfect time at JMU to make that happen, and you could totally see the improvements since then. It’s so cool to see that. 

Jim

I gotta tell you I’ll use that word again. It’s humbling to watch it. And you know, it’s one of those things that when I made the leap to ODU, it just opened up so many opportunities for the people I had worked with at James Madison. And to see them pick that mantle up to move it forward and then with a wonderful hire for what is now the Dean’s position, it is, it’s a pretty — I’ll use this phrase — pretty damn amazing. 

Meni

I completely agree with you. I think it’s awesome when you see the evolution of a program, when it was just 1.75 in terms of employees to where JMU is today, which is a pretty big department, who has their own building, that’s pretty awesome in the middle of that campus and so I love that work. 

But now you’re Eastern Shore. And so this is such an interesting conversation because community colleges and universities are so vastly different in how they do programs in general, in higher ed. Right? What a lot of people don’t realize is that continuing ed departments and professional, continuing ed, CPE, whatever you want to call it, and universities and community colleges, aren’t that different.

There aren’t a ton of differences there except some funding, some credit programs. And so there’s, the goal of them is still kind of the same. Right? And so what I’m interested in is first off, how is Eastern Shore’s continuing ed department? How does that compare to some of the other places that you’ve been before?

Jim

So let me just kind of backup and provide some context if that’s okay.

Meni

Sure. 

Jim

You know, first of all you’re right in that the CE units are similar at four-year as compared to two-year. The biggest difference is that the community college has fully embraced the mission of that whereas at some four-year institutions yes, we think it’s important to do, but it really isn’t one of our major mission areas.

You know, research, teaching and, oh by the way, maybe a service along the way. But anyway, at Eastern Shore, we are a very small college. We serve a sparsely populated area and we have a unique population. We have about 45,000 people and of those, one half of our households are either in poverty or what we call working poor. 

And so our mission is just crystal clear, Meni, in terms of what it is that we should be doing. And so when we think about CE, when it’s primarily workforce development, short-term programs to get people into jobs, and you know, it’s been fun for me because now I talk about CDL, people getting licensed to drive a truck. 

We talk about our welding program and moving from welding into a job. And it, we, it’s what we do! It’s absolutely what we do. And particularly right now with COVID and people unemployed. We are really putting our emphasis into that.

We continue to have credit programs and transfer. But to serve our people here on the Eastern Shore, getting them into short-term programs, getting them into good jobs, good careers is what we do. 

Meni

How has your role as the president at Eastern Shore, you know, how has that changed your outlook and how you see CE and really the overall landscape of higher ed from your seat now? Because it’s different than when you’re a president versus when you’re a Dean. 

Jim

Yeah, if somebody asks a question about, ‘How are you staying safe with COVID?’ and I responded with, you know it’s interesting in previous jobs, I would have been just a department, not just, but I would have been responding as a department.

And so now that I’m president, I can tell you, this is what we do. Because this is what I’ve decided is important to do with input from others. 

So, here’s where I think higher education is going. You know, this whole COVID thing has been a wake up call on so many levels. One of them has been the disparity in terms of access to technology, access to the internet.

And I see that we’re going to use this to be able to act as really, impetus to be able to close that gap. And I’m seeing that here on the shore the other piece is and this is more distressing is what I’ve heard called a K-graph. Where those who are the haves are going to continue to move up and those who are the, have nots, that gap is just going to get bigger. I think higher education we’re going to see this gap grow between institutions depending on who you serve. I think CE really is positioned to step into this breach right now and to be able to help close that gap.

If the institutions are prepared to make that part of one of their missions because if we can close that gap, and get people into good jobs, they will continue their education. They will move from where they are into leadership positions. And as they do that they are going to need to get what we would call a degree. So this is a great opportunity. It’s just a matter of whether or not institutions will embrace that. 

I mean, you’ve you read the same things I do. This morning’s Chronicle was talking about, what’s happened because we’ve invested in our colleges and now they’re, you know, these four years are struggling. You know, we’re talking tens, hundreds of millions of dollars in debt. And so we can either circle the wagons, which would be a bad idea, or we can understand and reach out to where the needs are and be part of that solution, moving forward.

How’s that for getting up on my soap box? 

Meni

You know what? I love it because honestly, it is the conversation that we know needs to happen, but we don’t know how to do it. Right? And you’ve been in this industry for long enough where you’ve had to have these conversations and, you know, these are conversations that oftentimes fall on deaf ears.

And we are still trying to answer that question to university presidents. Like how can we clearly tell you the value and show you the value if you don’t give us the opportunity to show what we can do for the university? And that’s always been such a key issue with everybody. I mean, not with everybody, the majority of the schools that we’ve worked with or that we’ve worked at, trying to get the message across of what CE can do is always, maybe the most difficult thing to try to get across to a president or a provost.

I wish we could have a workshop where we could sit CE deans down and be like, okay, what has worked to try to get you a little bit more movement in the buy-in of the future and how you can help the university? 

I actually kind of see COVID as a big benefit to CE  departments because, and I think you kind of mentioned it there, it’s the opportunity for the university to finally see what CE departments can do and how they can help a university, not just financially, but help the students get to where they need to be. 

So let’s talk about the administrative level, as president and the cabinet that you have, how do you think we can best approach that conversation with, you know, it doesn’t have to be, major universities, how do we approach the conversation and how do we sell CE to this level of a president or a cabinet, knowing how much of that group has to be doing on the strategic side, on the business side? Like how do we start that conversation do you think?

Jim

You know that’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? The one that my colleagues, you and fellow deans have really wrestled with, and number one is it’s not going to be the same for every institution and that’s one thing I have certainly learned. 

The other piece of that is to get the discussion away from measuring our success by dollars and measuring our success by impact. And so that’s going to put a burden on the CE deans, the CE departments to be able to provide that sort of data to the institutions.

I think that one of the reasons that it is working so well at JMU, in my opinion is, that JMU is mission-driven and of all of the institutions, except for where I am now JMU has had that crystallization of what they want to be when they grow up. And it is a matter of, they want to be in the model engaged institution and that’s right, that’s tattooed on everybody’s forehead and that drives the fact that the outreach and engagement has done so very well there. What I found perplexing and kind of difficult to understand over the years, is this competition between being a research institution and being an engaged institution.

And I think that, you know, there’s no reason in the world that they don’t coincide because there’s enough there to support both, and not only that, if we measure it in terms of impact you know, we will see that higher ed will step up to this. But it will be interesting to watch how this all folds out moving forward. 

I feel so damn comfortable for Eastern Shore Community College in terms of where we are, where we’ve positioned ourselves and where we’re moving forward to. And Meni, I agree this COVID-19 has been a real pain in the patootie. However, it has really kick-started a number of things for our college that we may not have been aware of if we hadn’t gone through what we’re going through with COVID. 

Meni

You know what I love the most about where our institutions are today? It is for the first time ever, and I say this jokingly, but kind of seriously, we’ve seen traditional higher ed move quickly. Which is something we’re not used to.

The moment that we shut down our classrooms and everything had to switch modalities to go online, I don’t think I’ve ever seen higher ed institutions move that quickly. And it brings so much promise that, ‘Hey, if you could do it for this, we can really start moving things quicker and moving things more forward because there’s proof you can do it.’

How was the transition for you guys at Eastern Shore? 

Jim

You just described it.  It was back in the middle of March and the first thing we did was told our students don’t come back after spring break, we’re going to extend spring break one week.

And in that week we moved every course to remote delivery. And so what did we do that week? We worked with faculty, worked with each other and with the vice president and then the student services also worked. And how do we deliver our services at a distance? And so we came out of that after, no more than five to seven days, working days, moving forward.

This is it. We’re online. Here we go. And you know, one of the beauties is that we used the nomenclature ‘online.’ The reality is what we just happened to be using the internet and the number of courses, and we encourage this, where we have a live interaction with the faculty member, whether it’s Zoom or WebEx is extremely important.

We use delivering remote rather than even thinking about online. One more thing about that is that with the importance of not assuming our student services. We didn’t need to make modifications because we’re moving to remote delivery. And thank goodness, we didn’t make that assumption and great leadership in that area. So that when we came out the other end people knew how to access things from their home or whatever the case may be.

And you know, so many institutions saw a dip in enrollments and we were very lucky beginning with spring of 2020, all the way up until this semester, we’ve had increases in enrollment of those as much as 20%. And I think that’s because it’s two reasons. 

One is that we really prepared. And secondly, if you work at Eastern Shore Community College, you’re not only know the student’s name, you know the student’s mom and dad. Or you may go to church with them. And so it’s we know who to call if you’re not in class, basically. So that’s a bit more than you wanted to know on that one, but that’s how we made the change.

Meni

I’ve worked at both the community college level and the university level, different sized institutions and you’re spot on. I feel like community college campuses are so much more personal and there’s a lot more of that happening.

And then the students, they’re going through something unique to them and universities are just a whole different experience. I’m always curious and now that I have you on this, I could actually ask a community college president, the partnership or the collaboration between community colleges and universities.

We don’t often hear a lot about it, but I know a lot happens behind the scenes. There’s always agreements that get made about two-plus-two agreements and how else we can get students to matriculate from their two-year degree into a four-year degree. What are some things that Eastern Shore is doing right now with four year universities?

And just as a follow-up to that, how do you see the relationship between community colleges and other four-year institutions? 

Jim

One of the things that I think about changes, but we’re seeing in higher education is the fact that the number of new students as compared to transfer students, more and more universities, whether they are elite or not. I’ve seen this at the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, where they are moving towards recruitment of transfer students. And so I do believe that’s, and thank goodness they’ve woken up to that, because that’s really where I think that the growth market will be for those institutions.

We have any number of agreements with the public, four-year institutions here in Virginia and the most powerful piece of it is that you are guaranteed to be able to take your transfer credit into institutions and we’ll apply it towards a degree program. And it is a guarantee. Now it’s not going to be the same guarantee for every institution. But we can, when we recruit and provide advice, tell the students, if you take X, Y, and Z, and you maintain a X grade point average, you’ll be able to move on.

Our most comprehensive relationship is with Old Dominion University and so everything we do, we, if it’s appropriate, we try to link it. To programs that ODU has. And the nice thing is that most of those are online. So I can talk to a parent and say, yes, get your son or daughter started here. They’ll be able to complete the program on the shore and not have to not have to leave, you know, God forbid we should have to go across a bridge.

And so that is the future for higher education is to create stronger bonds between community colleges and the four-year.

Meni

Well said. And I totally agree with that. I think that the more we collaborate amongst each other, as institutions, as units, it’s only going to benefit the students so much more.

Jim

Yeah, I think one of the great treasure chests that we have, that we need to figure out, and that is, how is it that we transfer these hands-on programs to the four year institutions?

And, if you think about it, welding is really difficult. I mean, you need to know angles, you need to know about how much gas and those sorts of things. So let’s figure out how we transfer that into an engineering program. It won’t be an engineering program that’s going to get me into like civil engineering or anything like that, but a general engineering program where I can apply what I’ve learned hands on. And Meni I’ll go back. The key is going to be that we’re going to have companies who are going to look for people to move into leadership roles, and they’re going to be people in that company. And we need to provide that off-ramp for them so that they can get whatever it is that they need so they can move into the, into expanded roles at the companies. 

Meni

Wouldn’t it be such an interesting world if experiential learning and your past learning experiences and credits you’ve earned just seamlessly transfer wherever you go, because you’ve already learned it?

Could you just imagine a world, if everything was just linked that easily? How we would close that education gap? 

It should be a goal for every educator to have that happen. Don’t you think? 

Jim

Oh, absolutely. And I think, as you’re talking my mind is going a million miles an hour. I think I’m going to take it from one of the things that I have concentrated on is really where I am at and what changes can I make within this small piece of the world that I’m in. 

And so I concentrate on that and try to create situations that you’re describing. And then, if I moved out a little bit, and this has come to me since taking on this role as president at a community college, and that is, there are some things we can do nationally just with financial aid.

Can you imagine, and opening up the Pell grant and make that available to people who are taking workforce development programs? What a great investment the, you know, they’re going to move into high paying jobs. So, I mean, and our senators, they’re trying to push that and I think that’s, those are things that we can do that really aren’t that hard. We have to get beyond the fact that we measure students’ progress by the number of credit hours they complete at C or better. We need better measures than that.

Meni

I’ll take it one step further.

Why shouldn’t the GI Bill be completely rewritten to have a focus on approving workforce development programs for all types of programs for our veterans, right? We’ve been dealing with students not getting approved for workforce development programs for the GI Bill for over a decade, maybe even two decades now. If those funding resources became available.

Oh, you’re so right. It would be such a game changer for so many people in our population, in our country.

Jim

We were talking about how higher education is, particularly I’m thinking of the four-year program, four-year institution, if we made those changes and all of a sudden there is a financial incentive to do these sorts of things. I will guarantee you, they will line up to provide these programs. 

And then where it starts is let’s provide financial aid for programs that are actually we’re going to see them complete. And we’re going to see them into their careers. What could be better? I don’t understand, you know, that’s like Nirvana, isn’t it?

Meni

But you know what, Jim, there’s hope here. I had a conversation last week with a colleague from Louisiana State University and they have gotten a student approved through their GI Bill to take one of their non-credit workforce development certificate programs. So it looks like people are trying to figure it out and they’re getting the VA to work with them on that.

So fingers crossed and, being hopeful and optimistic, we could start making those changes. So if one person can do it, we could start learning how to move that to other institutions and hopefully teach each other how to navigate those waters, because that’s what we need.

So the more funding sources we could find for those who need it, the better for it for everybody really. 

Jim

And you’re the and you’re right. It’s one person at a time. And one of the beauties of our profession PCE, is that we do not hesitate to share best practices. And going back to the notion of what’s it been like to be a continuing professional educator? I have so appreciated that willingness on my colleague’s part to really share. We could add, we actually compete in many ways, but in spite of that sharing the secrets of what’s worked and what doesn’t work has been really a key to my professional success.

Meni

So when Jim Shaeffer is all done and he’s ready to retire and do whatever brings you the most joy, what do you want your legacy to be? In both higher ed and in continuing education?

Jim

You know, that’s a really interesting, but yet difficult question to answer. And the 50,000 foot answer is actually going to Good to Great by Jim Collins, his book, because he talks about the fifth level where what you want is to leave the institution so that it will be better in your absence than it was when you were there. 

It’s real tempting to be able to look back and say, see that I really was the difference because they’re not doing very well. My legacy is hopefully going to be that I left it in such shape that other people, good leaders are going to be able to build on that.

I think in continuing education, I hope my legacy will be something like ‘he did believe in the power of education.’ He did provide access to the power of education for people so that they could use that to/for their own betterment. 

Here at Eastern Shore. It’s even more having an impact on the community. The existence of the community college in this small community is extremely important. And the challenges that I faced when I got here are not dissimilar to other rural institutions. And that is, how do we maintain ourselves when the fact is we don’t have a lot of people? And we are finding ways to do that.

And so I hope the legacy is the health of the community college, both financially and programmatically is such that it will continue to prosper. It will continue to meet these needs as they emerge because they’re going to morph over time and that they will be on such footing that they don’t have to worry about the lean times as much, but they can continue to make investments.

Meni

I could tell you, Jim, that the people that have been lucky enough to be your colleagues speak unbelievably highly of you and your leadership and the way that you’ve been able to navigate both the political waters of higher ed and really build on what you truly believe is the right way to do education. So, for those that at Eastern Shore know that you are in good hands. And Jim, thank you so much for being on our podcast here to talk about higher ed and continuing education. We really appreciate taking the time today.

Jim

Meni, thanks to you. Yeah, never ask me about ‘What do you think about continuing ed?’ because then you’re, you better get a cup of coffee and a sandwich, cause we’ll talk for awhile. 

Meni

I’ll tell you what the first time you and I did that was at a conference at the bar post hours and we talked for quite a bit of time and it’s those conversations that I miss so much today.

Jim

Yeah, I agree. I agree. Thank you so much for having me.