The Evolving World of Continuing and Higher Education with Dr. Melissa Lubin

The Evolving World of Continuing and Higher Education with Dr. Melissa Lubin

Continuing Education is the connective glue between people and departments at any institution.

✅ We can work with anyone on campus.
✅ We can build programs with any on-campus partner.
✅ We are the place to go when the institution doesn’t know how or where to innovate.

Yes, I’ve been saying this for years, but it might actually stick when you hear it from one of the best in our field, Dr. Melissa Lubin.

In our conversation, in the season 2 premier, Dr. Lubin said it best, “We can line ourselves up with really any discipline.”

Those of us who have been practicing this approach for decades have always understood. The tricky part has been trying to explain the endless possibilities with all other stakeholders on campus — and we talk through how to tackle that.

Join us and listen to an incredible journey from the private sector to the University of Virginia Dean’s desk as Dr. Lubin shares her journey and we get into the nitty-gritty of teaming up with others on campus to build something great for the university and the community.

Links from the episode👇👇
Melissa Lubin’s LinkedIn
UVA’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies
Meni’s LinkedIn
The Education Beyond Degrees Podcast Homepage

And finally, we are trying to grow our Continuing Education’s only global Slack group. Reach out to me directly and I will add you!


Full Transcript:

Meni: Hey, I’m Meni Sarris, and this is the Education Beyond Degrees podcast with The Spur Group, the podcast where a continuing education geek goes behind the scenes to talk shop about the people, trends, and ideas impacting our space.

On today’s podcast, we have Dr. Melissa Lubin, the Dean of the School of Continuing Professional Studies at the University of Virginia. Melissa, thank you so much for joining us today.

Melissa: Thank you for having me, Meni. It’s great to be here.

Meni: I am so excited for this podcast. Melissa and I have known each other for a long time, and she is one of the most brilliant minds I’ve ever seen in our industry, and I love seeing what she’s done in her past and now what she’s going to do at University of Virginia.

So, thanks again for taking the time. I think, you know, I could talk about everything that you’ve done in the past, but why don’t we give a brief introduction about where you’ve come from, what got you to where you are today, and just give us like a brief history of yourself.

That would be awesome.

Melissa: Okay, thanks. So what I would say I have spent about almost half of my career in private sector and then I would say more than half of my career now in in higher ed. So I am still figuring out maybe what I want to do. But what I’ve always enjoyed doing is is working with people and really seeing the best in people.

And I learned early on in my life that education was a pathway to creating your best self and to making changes for yourself and to really enjoy life to its fullest in many different ways. And so education has always been a part of my life, but it wasn’t always something that came easily to me.

 When I graduated from high school I went to Virginia Tech. I was there three years. I switched my major four times. I got that call from my dad that says, honey, I think you need to take a break. And so I did, I took 2 years off, I worked and I really figured out that an education was going to be something that I wanted to do and I had a much better understanding of not only what I wanted to, to move forward in terms of majoring and studying, but in why it would be important. And I was really 1 of the lucky ones. So Meni. I. Failed early and I failed fast and I had a safety net. I had a lot of privilege growing up. I had, you know, a very loving household supportive parents.

I had a safety net right when when things didn’t go well. And so I was able to pick up, get back into school, move through in. That’s when I fell in love with really helping those that maybe weren’t as fortunate as me that that also had some struggles with completing education at whatever place or space they were in their lives.

And so that’s how I got started in training in the corporate environment was from that perspective and then moved into higher ed and working with adult learners. So it was really living out you know, a passion of mine. I was able to really transform my own opportunities into realities through education.

And so it’s been exciting to try to be a part of that movement for others.

Meni: So oftentimes we hear that when people get into this continuing education, continuing professional studies field they often talk about being bitten by the bug, or they talk about a specific memory that They realized, you know, I knew my path was in education, but this industry that we’re in this continuing ed, continuing professional studies world, like it’s so much more impactful and so much more meaningful for me.

Was there a certain moment that you realized as you were, you know, navigating your way through education and higher ed that this role of, I don’t hate, I’m not going to use the word non traditional here, but this other world of education that most people don’t know about was, was the place that you were going to land and kind of stay in for your career.

Melissa: Yeah, that’s an interesting question. As I think back on when I first got into higher education, I actually started working with a education consulting company that partnered with small colleges across the United States. And so it was, in I was in college, I had a lot of students who were who were who were interested in getting into the adult learning market, specifically degree completion for associates degrees, bachelor degrees, and then master’s degrees.

 But I didn’t have my personal experience of going through college in that kind of environment. But when I was first introduced to working with you know, compressed learning, accelerated learning, this was before online was there, but being able to immerse adults who had families who were paying for this themselves, who were switching jobs, who were taking care of parents, there were just all of these amazing constraints were around people that they were still able to engage themselves in education and do really well and, and wanted it so badly that it just it humbles you as you’re working with With people that are really on their own doing this and you want to be able to create pathways that make it so it’s accessible, that it’s doable and that people can reach the finish line. That’s what I got pretty excited about was seeing people move all the way through and to graduate and then be able to do something with the learning that they had achieved.

Meni: It always reminds me that some of the happiest. I’ve ever seen adults is when they complete like a certificate program or something else that is giving them a job change or life change, just being at that graduation ceremony is nothing like when you graduate college, or if you get your master’s degree or you get your doctorate, it’s a totally different thing environment and a totally different happiness of these adults who are making that giant leap in their life, who’ve invested their time. And so when you talk about that it just resonates so much with All of us who have seen it firsthand and who have participated in it and who have been there to watch families as they, as, you know, it brings tears to their eyes to watch their 50 year old, you know, uncle or father or mother go through this long program because they want to change their lives.

So I totally get what you’re saying. It, it, it is just so absolutely impactful.

Melissa: Yeah, you know, the graduation days are some of my favorite moments to be there and you see your students and they’re just beaming. And then you see six. eight, ten people in the audience for each one of those students that are their children, that are their parents, that are their brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and best friends and spouses.

It’s just this, it takes a village, right? And when you see an adult student that crosses that stage and when they receive that diploma, the impact that they have goes so way beyond. themselves. And to me, that is where transformation takes place. When you have a child that’s watching their parent earn this, that gives them the bug too, right?

And so wow, it doesn’t get any better than that to me.

Meni: I totally agree with you, totally agree with you. And we talk about how we build these programs and how we offer them and, you know, helping students persist and complete, but it takes Unbelievable leadership to make that happen.

And like I said, at the onset of this podcast, you, you have been, you know, such an integral part of our industry. And, you know, anytime I see you at conferences, or I see you speaking, or I see you talking about what we do, you could see how much you’ve grown in terms of. Your expertise in this, in this space and really understanding what the market is like.

You were at James Madison before this, you’re now at University of Virginia, you know, tell us a little bit about. What a dean of continuing and professional studies does and what your role currently looks like.

Melissa: yeah, well, thank you for that. That’s it’s neat to to think along the lines of my own personal and professional growth, because it definitely has happened.

And you know, I really appreciate these associations out there. You and I see each other at many of them and our members and going to conferences taking courses connecting with colleagues that are at different kinds of institutions doing slightly different kind of work is just so helpful.

I mean, that that has really helped me along the way. I’ve had you know, mentors that come in and out of my life that. Really have helped me continue to learn what it’s like to lead in this space, you know, for, for a long time, you start out as a individual contributor where you’re actually doing the training, you’re doing the teaching, you’re developing the course.

And so I remember when I then began managing people and I loved teaching. That was my favorite. But you have to start letting that go, right? You have to then teach others to teach so that you can begin to step back and begin to observe and and think of strategies and and take in more information, right? To broaden. The impact that that you and and your unit can have. And so that my time at JMU really helped me do that. I had wonderful, wonderful colleagues that I worked with each that were eager and excited about moving forward and and learning and honing their craft, as you will.

So I really had a great opportunity to step into that leadership space and to, to get out of their way, but to provide advocacy and the resources that they needed to do their best work. And so I think I, I JMU, the importance of having a seat at the table when you were leading a continuing education unit.

 It Was very important to to get that seat and to not be at the kids table anymore, if you will, but to to have a full fledged seat of your own. And and by doing that, it sends a message not only to the rest of your colleagues. Within your unit or school but also to your peers across the institution to those also outside of the institution that are looking inward, looking at your university, understanding what your university prioritizes.

So I think continuing education units are gaining in respect. It was one of the reasons that UVA really caught my eye is that continuing education is in our president’s strategic plan. And that is pretty exciting. And I can’t say I have had the experience quite yet until I came to UVA where the role of the continuing education school is a priority for the president at a top 10 university.

And so that that’s pretty compelling. And to me, it gives you an idea, I think, of where we are in higher education for all of us.

Meni: That is so exciting because you almost never hear that.

Melissa: Yeah,

Meni: I mean, almost never hear that. Like we usually get a line in a strategic plan or maybe something that looks a little bit like a line that would come from continuing education.

But to get a president to give that backing, we all know how important that is. And that’s awesome that you have it there.

 I love that you have that, that, that backing from the president. How do you talk about the positives and what continuity I could do to other people on campus, like whether it be faculty or other administrators, because we often know that it’s hard to spread the message of what we can do and how important we can be.

 What have you found to be the best way to communicate that with other people on campus?

Melissa: Yeah, well, I think one of the first things you need to do is really understand what matters to them most. And so, you know, my dean colleagues each have very different purviews. They have different missions.

They have unique audiences that they serve. They have very distinct disciplines in many ways. And so, One of the exciting things of being in continuing education, and you know this Meni in your work is that we can be friends with everyone, right? We can line ourselves up with really any discipline.

And so, by first understanding what their. Points of pride are where their successes have been. And what are their hopes for the future? And if you can then align the work that you are doing with what they are hoping to accomplish, you’ve got something really interesting to begin connecting around and what I have found is many faculty and researchers and professors and administrators are wanting to grow, right? They’re really wanting to grow and expand their portfolio. And that can happen in a lot of different ways. It can be growing the number of students that you have, or it can be growing the kinds of students that you have. And so working with audiences that go beyond the traditional residential students student is of great interest to many of our colleagues. It gives opportunity to work with students that have a very different perspective. So it enriches the classroom experience. It also gives faculty the opportunity to expand their own research. And I think many times when we teach and we’re working with the same audiences, there’s more of a repetition in what you’re doing.

And when you’re with adult learners, you really have to change it up a bit. And so it gives faculty an opportunity to really take a new look at the way they are approaching something and really pull something different out from the students. So I think the audience in and of itself is pretty huge.

The other thing I think that goes with when you’re partnering with a more traditional unit is that you can focus on new modalities, new ways of teaching and sharing information. You know, we in adult learning are really experts in using experiential learning and using techniques that engage the learners in ways that the more traditional side of the house have not historically used.

But we know that the andragogy. that we use, which is the art and science of adult learning, is, is comparable to the pedagogy that the more traditional use, which is the teaching of children. And so, pedagogy focuses on teaching and techniques, where andragogy focuses on learning.

 And that is different. And I think that we can help faculty really try some new things on to see how it resonates, not only with this new audience, but with the audience that they’ve traditionally been working with. Does that make sense?

Meni: It does. And I totally love the idea of thinking about new modalities and methods and how we teach, which really makes me wonder, you know, everybody’s got their opinion on where education is going, you know, the traditional educators and academics will say the traditional way is going to always withstand the test of time. But from your perspective, what do you see as coming up in higher ed or continuing yet, or what do you see in the next five years that will see a drastic change?

Is it students will stop taking traditional courses as much as they do, or as much as they have in the past? Will we see more students trying different types of programs? Will we see more collaborations with major universities? Where do you see higher ed continuing education going in the next five years?

Melissa: Well, everything you said and more. So I, I think that we’re in a really interesting time. I mean, I can just say chat GPT and it gets everybody talking about education in the future. I mean, industry we’re talking about major disruptions in industry, education and I look at this as exciting because I think it reminds me of how we have been disruptors in the adult earning market.

Think about when COVID came the units that were really the most agile and responsive were the continuing ed arms of the the higher ed institution, and that’s because we had been in this role. So we had been doing some of this work. We had been agile. We had been used to working with students and within different modalities and at different.

 And so that’s what I think of the future of technology and chat GPT is an example of that. It gives us an opportunity to relook and think, where do we want to spend our time? How can we continue to learn and solve really wicked problems. Perhaps if we’re, if we could offload some skills that we might have traditionally thought we needed to learn and so it gets us rethinking what is the purpose of education, right? And, and what is the best way to achieve that education? And there isn’t one answer.

 As we think about our diverse communities. World, there’s not just one way to do this. And so the more that we can try and and get ourselves out there with trying new things and experimenting and again, all in the name of impact outcomes and transformation, social mobility, you know solving wicked problems.

If we can stay focused on the end, What we’re trying to reach the way that we go about it. I think there’s going to be many different ways to do this. The days of the moving very linear through education are really over, they’re already gone. We can cling on to them, but there’s much better ways to go about it that offer all of us, we’re all unique you know, different pathways to be able to accomplish some really great things out there.

Meni: I love that you brought up Chat GPT.

Melissa: Yeah.

Meni: For me, this whole, this, this whole thing is going to be so interesting because it brings to the forefront the change in the dynamic of the student moving forward. And if we don’t adjust to it and we just don’t understand the benefits of AI and how we can utilize it in education, we’re going to fall behind so quickly. But the good thing is continuing ed is typically the first ones to adjust to it. Just like you said, in the pandemic, when it first started, you know, all of a sudden, when for years we had been trying to get things online, everybody was like, Oh, it’s just too hard. It’s just too hard. And then within weeks, so many of the schools had a hundred percent of their portfolio online. It just shows how quickly they can move if they need to do it. So it’s going to be really interesting. I love, I love that sense of how we teach and how we change those things in order to make sense for our future students and I think that anybody who understands what we’re trying to do and how we work with our students, no matter what age they are, could understand what that means as we continue to grow and how we. teach to learn to those students. So I think it’s going to be really, really interesting.

So I’m really curious, Melissa, what do you want your legacy to be when you’ve made unbelievable changes at UVA, you’ve left your mark, what do you want your legacy to be in our industry, how do you want people to remember you and what do you hope that you’ve planted to make this something that is great in the future?

Melissa: Yeah, so I would say. Legacy is a big word, but when I think about what has what really makes my, my heart just really glow is the thought that adult learners are able to have the same access experiences and benefits of an education throughout their life as those that are really in the more traditional pathway.

And it really excites me that we are now in a moment where, because of all of the shifts, we all know about the demographic changes. We know about the the cliff, right? That is coming where the numbers of students that will be coming out of high school and entering college or are smaller.

And so it just is another indicator. That that is a way to complete your education is to do it the traditional route, but there’s millions and millions of us who are out here who are still wanting to learn who are wanting to career switch and upskill and reskill and to have them have the same access to the same education in the way that they need it.

And for it to be respected in the same way that the students that are coming in that don’t have the experiences of work and life behind them. For them to have equal experiences, right? But that they’re unique at the same time that that to me is that the university doesn’t distinguish that we finally figure out that it is the learner.

Because both are adults, right? When they come to college, they’re 18 year old. And so we tend to refer to them in these using a different language than what we do for those that have been out working and that are coming back for whatever reason to further their education, that we talk about them all in the same.

They’re all students and they’re just on a continuum of learning and each. Each point on that continuum is incredibly important for our societies to continue to improve and to move forward and to accomplish the great things that we all want to accomplish in our lives. So I think every point along that continuum for each one be recognized with the same kind of respect and excitement and enthusiasm for helping to move forward. That’s that’s what I would like to see that every university has that. That’s what universities are about.

Meni: And I think it goes back to the, one of the first quotes that you said in this podcast, and you said, it’s a pathway to creating your best self.

And you’re, you’re absolutely right with that. And I totally agree. And I think UVA is incredibly lucky to have you. I think you’re going to do amazing things there just as you did before. And I want to thank you. And I’m sure everybody listening wants to thank you for being a part of this because you bring so much to our industry and have so much to give because you are unbelievably passionate about this.

 So thank you for joining this podcast. I really appreciate you taking the time. And I hope that as we see each other at. Conferences and, and moving forward together, people could really understand your passion for this and reach out if they ever, if they ever want to talk, because I know you’re such a giving person with your time and with your expertise.

So thank you so much, Melissa.

Melissa: Meni, it was really my pleasure. And really anytime I would love to, to, you know, if I can have a conversation and learn and, and give back, that’s what it’s all about in our, in our world. So thank you.

Meni: Thank you for listening to this episode of the Education Beyond Degrees podcast with the SPUR group. If you liked what you heard, you can find this episode along with a ton of other resources on the website. See you on the next episode.