Working with technology customers and continuing education organizations for over thirty-five years provides a great deal of insight into the skill level of continuing education staff.  After reading support requests, reviewing suggestions, and providing classroom training for many of those years, it is clear that a majority of continuing education software users are very skilled at their jobs. 

With the entrepreneurial nature of continuing education programs, becoming “street” smart is almost a requirement in order to get the job done.  However, a few areas of need seem to reappear often enough to warrant consideration.  If certain skills were refined, a very good employee can grow into a superb and highly valuable employee.

Written Communication

Probably more than anything else, reading support tickets, suggestion requests, and bid specifications on an almost daily basis provides ample evidence for some level of need in written communication.  Take a look at these two examples.

“I tried, but email is not working.”

Imagine for a moment that your car was experiencing some trouble and you decided to take it to the car dealership for repair. When you leave the car in the early bird service, you leave a note for the mechanic, “My car is not working correctly”.  However, when you return at the end of the day, your car is not repaired. The mechanic had no idea what to look for. The original statement was void of detail and left almost all the responsibility of understanding to the mechanic with little or nothing to help.

The duties of many continuing education staff include a great deal of communication with students, parents, and possibly companies.  Providing complete details when communicating with any of these customer types is crucial to building a successful working relationship and maintaining a satisfied customer.

“Can you make the one column on that report move over and put the email addresses over it along with the cell number and work number, but we don’t need the home number anyway because we only deal with them while at work which is very important to us and it would be more convenient.”

In this case, there appear to be plenty of details. However, which details are important and which confuse the reader? There are too many topics all placed together in a run-on sentence that in the end, leads to points unknown.  When taking a closer look, even the points crucial to understanding the request are missing clarity and specificity.  For example, we don’t know which column should be moved and in what direction. 

Continuing education staff should strive to be clear, concise, and complete on every step of communication with customers from email subject lines to course descriptions. 

“ If certain skills were refined, a very good employee can grow into a superb and highly valuable employee. ”


Basic Invoicing Processes

At times I am amazed at the accounting responsibilities placed on continuing education staff.  Over the years, I have seen accounting duties increase dramatically. Everything often seems fine until the dreaded audit arrives. It is then that it often becomes clear that many are not trained on basic principles of accounting and understanding of accounts receivable, or more specially, the process of invoicing and payments.

Continuing education offices deal with a diverse array of transaction types from cash, checks, credit cards, grants, corporate payments, public sector payments, and even in-house funding programs. Adding to the difficulty, refunds, non-sufficient funds checks, cancellations, and below minimum enrollments bring another level of complexity to the process. This appearance of complexity, however, can mask one basic goal of accounts receivable: how to determine what amount is due.

Many often confuse the basic two separate elements that help determine a balance due. The invoice itself and the payments against that invoice are often mentioned as if they are one thing.  An invoice determines how much is due, and transactions then determine how much of the amount has been paid. That seems like a simple enough process.  However, bring a refund into the mix for example and the process often breaks down.  The lack of understanding of basic invoicing prevents the staff member from either correctly recording the refund or accounting for the refund on the invoice. The result is often an incorrect balance due.

With some basic training on accounting, specifically invoicing, financial records will be more accurate, timely, and credible, often leading to better audits. At a minimum, staff members should have access to accounting staff within their respective organizations that can assist when financial exceptions occur.

Understanding Relational Databases

Student registration systems are an integral of continuing education programs. Regardless of enrollment levels, most staff are expected to be able to use a database for student registration and financial management. It is almost a requirement to maintain a cost effective program. For these systems to perform their best and provide the most relevant and accurate information, the manner in which data is recorded and reported is important.

Many users do not entirely understand that databases are not generally one big bucket of records all mixed together. Inquiries often support this lack of understanding with questions such as “Why can’t I delete this student” or “Why does this report show duplicate students”. Both questions are easily answered knowing how relational databases are built and operate.

When staff understand that databases are made up of many related tables and what those relationships are, their accuracy improves and the data management time is often more efficiently spent.

Basic HTML

Marketing duties have become an expectation of many continuing education positions. Many have not had formal training in marketing areas, but many resources are available to assist employees in this task.  Professional organizations often provide workshops and seminars focusing on this important topic. Many of the outcomes of these training efforts and marketing goals include social media and other online outcomes.

Setting design skills aside, one of the common elements of these marketing efforts includes the knowledge of basic HTML. Emails, online brochures, course descriptions, web advertising, and other such marketing efforts require basic HTML knowledge in order to bring the end product to life. When comparing a text email to an HTML email, most anyone will state the HTML email is more interesting, has better credibility, and brings increased excitement.

With the number of predesigned templates available on the market, employees don’t need to be graphic designers. But if they have basic HMTL skills, they can create competitive and effective marketing results that benefit their organization.

Author Rick J. Stern

Entrepreneur Rick Stern built Xenegrade Corp with a focus on service to educational organizations. With an MBA from Simon School of Business at the University of Rochester and over 20 years continuing education management, his experience provides valuable insight into the needs, demands, and trends of the continuing education market.

More posts by Rick J. Stern

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