Demand for continuing education programs, both personal and professional, is growing

On a recent weekday evening, Travis Snider convenes a unique group of continuing education students: small-business owners.

The 20 entrepreneurs are meeting for their monthly workshop as part of the Small Business Accelerator Signature program, offered through Cascadia College in Bothell. The accelerator helps established Eastside companies expand and increase profits.

“We focus on business owners who aren’t really getting any help from anybody,” Snider says. “Despite local government talking about wanting to support small businesses, we’re out here kind of taking care of ourselves.”

The accelerator program, administered by Everett Community College, targets business owners whose companies are at least five years old, have at least five employees, and are generating $500,000 or more in sales. The 10-month course costs $2,400 and offers 50 hours of instruction and one-on-one consulting. Graduates of the Signature accelerator course are eligible for the CEO Roundtable, an advanced program that delivers 53 more hours of teaching and coaching for $3,900.

The fees are a relative bargain. The average cost of business coaching in Washington is nearly $400 an hour, according to ProMatcher, which tracks consulting fees nationwide. The Signature accelerator hosted at Cascadia pencils out to $48 an hour.

Snider teaches business basics, such as how to read a financial statement, but says one of the most valuable aspects of the program is bringing like-minded people together to share best practices and brainstorm ideas.

“Many business owners don’t even know what type of help they should have. When they get to talk with each other, it becomes real,” Snider says. “They find out there are others who share their hopes and dreams.”

The business accelerator illustrates how Eastside professionals can utilize the area’s continuing education programs. Schools such as Renton Technical College, Bellevue College, and the University of Washington Bothell offer a wide array of learning options for nontraditional students, including those looking to add skills to their professional toolkits.

Courses are available part- or full-time, in the evening, and on weekends. The classes can be taken online or in person — in some cases, both. Some courses lead to college degrees; others provide certificates for mastering specific job skills. Some offer management training. And some courses satisfy personal interests.

“People want flexibility today,” says Melissa Rohlfs, a spokesperson for Renton Technical College. “For many people, enrolling in college full-time is just not possible.”

About 75 percent of postsecondary students in the United States work, and more than 30 percent work full-time, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Nonetheless, students’ appetite for learning is voracious: Demand for continuing education among those 35 and older is predicted to grow by 7 percent by 2016.

That demand reflects the fact that older adults, healthier than ever and struggling to save for retirement, are working later in life. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that workers ages 50 and over will comprise more than a third of the American workforce by 2016. Half of all U.S. students pursuing continuing education are financially independent, and they carefully choose classes that apply to their profession or further a personal interest.

Travis Snider, lead instructor of the Everett Community College Small Business Accelerator Program

Travis Snider, lead instructor of the Everett Community College Small Business Accelerator Program

Many reasons to study

Shara Tscheulin, product manager for Bellevue College’s Business Training Institute, says most adult students are trying to gain new job skills. “They’re looking for training they can learn tonight and apply tomorrow at work,” she says. “That’s what we specialize in.”

Bellevue College serves about 17,000 continuing education students a year. Renton Tech had 9,596 continuing-ed students in 2013-14, 70 percent of whom were seeking some type of workplace training.

Many of Renton Tech’s students are current or future Boeing employees. Renton Tech is a member of Air Washington, an 11-school group that received $20 million in federal funding last year to train aerospace workers.

“Relationships with (Ford), Microsoft, Boeing, and others are important to us as an institution,” Rohlfs says, “because they ensure we’re training students for the workplace.”

Some adult learners are seeking to finish an undergraduate degree, or are pursuing an advanced diploma. This is the province of the University of Washington’s Educational Outreach program, which offers 75 fields of study for nontraditional learners.

“It’s really imperative to serve more adults, especially those who have some college but no degree,” says Rovy Branon, the program’s vice provost. “People need the skills they get from higher education to have a good economic life.”

Eastside learners seem to be hearing Branon’s message — there are about 1,200 of them in the program — and Bureau of Labor Statistics data bear him out. The median salary in 2013 for workers with bachelor’s degrees, the agency reports, was $17,200 more than employees with associate’s degrees. Those with a master’s degree earned $11,500 a year more than those with a bachelor’s.

Inversely, unemployment rates steadily decrease as you move up the degree ladder, from 11 percent for those without a high school diploma to 4 percent for holders of bachelor’s degrees.

Continuing education isn’t limited to degree seekers and those honing professional skills. Hobbyists take classes that satiate their personal interests: art, literature, music, yoga, cooking. These, too, fall under the umbrella of continuing education. So do English as a Second Language classes and a variety of summer and scholastic programs serving children and teenagers.

The UW program serves about 50,000 continuing-ed students. Branon aims to increase that figure to 500,000 within a few years.

“We’re seeing new blends of online and in-person education that I think will be a real driver for the future,” Branon says. “We’re also seeing more integration of business and community. These will be growing trends.”

Over time, the UW will increase its emphasis on the Eastside. Branon isn’t sure exactly what that might look like, he says, “but the demand is there.” 

Natalie Lecher manages the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the UW, which offers academic classes for people over 50.

Natalie Lecher manages the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the UW, which offers academic classes for people over 50.

After age 50, school finally gets cheap

Want to take a college course without scribbling notes, completing homework, or passing tests? Welcome to the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

Osher programs, offered through the University of Washington Educational Outreach program, offer low-cost, general-interest classes to students ages 50 and up. This quarter’s offerings range from “The American Revolution” to “Sustainability in the 21st Century.”

The UW hosts one of 119 Osher programs, which are on university and college campuses in all 50 states. Osher programs began at the UW in 2006, and are funded by a $1 million endowment from the Bernard Osher Foundation, bestowed to encourage the development of “vibrant learning communities” for older adults.

Three of those communities are on the Eastside, with nine Osher courses scheduled this spring in classrooms at Triology at Redmond Ridge, Mercer Island Community Center, and University House Issaquah.

“We’re at capacity right now,” says Natalie Lecher, director of Osher programs for the Educational Outreach program. “We’ve grown the program, and a lot of that growth has been on the Eastside.”

Eastside students account for 438 of the 1,200 Osher Institute UW members. An annual $35 membership opens up Osher courses, which typically consist of four weekly two-hour lessons. The classes usually cost $35 or $40.

Curriculum is approved by the University of Washington, and classes are taught by current, retired, and emeritus university faculty as well as community experts.

“We tend to have members who take two to three classes a quarter,” Lecher says. “They’re interested in getting a lot out of the program.”