Helping Alumni Advance: Designing a Continuing Education Program

by Mark A. Olander

Since Mutiso Mwema graduated from Bible college nine years ago, he has faithfully served as a pastor of local churches where he was assigned by his denominational leadership. Although a few of his former classmates have been given the opportunity to pursue further studies at other colleges or graduate schools, Mutiso has never had the opportunity to further his education.

Since Mutiso Mwema graduated from Bible college nine years ago, he has faithfully served as a pastor of local churches where he was assigned by his denominational leadership. Although a few of his former classmates have been given the opportunity to pursue further studies at other colleges or graduate schools, Mutiso has never had the opportunity to further his education. He is an example of many Bible college alumni who desire to continue their formal education in other higher educational institutions but who are unable to do so for a number of reasons. There is a great need for continuing education programs in the form of seminars or refresher courses.

One of our college’s (Moffat College of Bible in Kenya) alumni, Peter Ngogoyo, who returned to our campus as a participant in continuing education courses, expressed the value of such a program.

First, a continuing education program is important because it helps the alumni to be refreshed after a period of time being in the ministry. Second, it helps to expose the alumni to courses they did not have during their time as students. Third, the alumni go home with an added tool or skill to use in the ministry. And last, it brings alumni together and as they share their experiences, they are able to build up and encourage one another.

How should we go about the task of designing and implementing such a program that will effectively address the needs of the alumni of our colleges? Let me suggest ten steps which can guide us in the process.

1. Write a proposal which will be presented to your college’s faculty. In this proposal, emphasize the fact that many of your college’s graduates have not had the opportunity to pursue further formal education since they finished their degree/diploma. At our college in Kenya, the majority of our graduates do not have the chance to go on for further studies so there is a definite need for continuing education courses.

2. Establish a small committee made up of three or four people who have a real heart for such a program. This committee should include faculty members and at least one alumnus. The function of this committee is to plan the continuing education program. One of the first things to be done by the committee is to design a questionnaire to send out to as many alumni as possible.

3. Do a needs assessment study of your college’s alumni. This survey could include questions such as: When did you graduate from our college? What is your current occupation? Have you had any further education since graduating from college? What time of year would be best for us to hold continuing education classes? What courses or topics would you be interested in studying? Would you come for continuing education courses if they were offered? You can either mail out the questionnaire to alumni or hand them out at an alumni meeting.

4. Tabulate the results of the assessment study and come to some conclusions as to when would be the best time to offer the continuing education courses. When we did our survey, we found that most preferred a one-week course to be offered early in April when our regular college students were not on campus. Since our college is not in session during that month, all the classrooms and dormitories are available for use. Also, use the results of the survey to find out the topics which are of most interest to the alumni. The questionnaire will help you know what the felt needs are. Select one of the most desired subjects for your first course and identify someone (possibly one of your college’s faculty members) to teach the course. The possibilities for courses are limitless and can include: servant leadership, chaplaincy ministry, spiritual formation, the multi-church pastor, advanced pastoral counseling, ministering to people with AIDS or the pastor and finances.

5. Do a pilot study of the program. Invite a relatively small number (ten to twelve) of alumni to do an experimental course together. In doing a pilot study, you are able to test some aspects of a continuing education program in your own setting. For example, you can find out the actual cost of running such a course on campus. That will help you know what fees to charge alumni who participate in continuing education courses in the future. During the experimental pilot course, you can also experiment with a schedule to see what is realistic and doable.

6. Make the necessary modifications based on the evaluation forms completed by the students and teacher(s) in the pilot course. For example, you may need to adjust the participation fee to make sure you are charging the right amount of money. Keeping the fees at a minimum will encourage more alumni to participate in the program. Also, you may need to adjust your timetable for the course based on the results of your pilot course evaluation results.

7. Advertise the program among your alumni. Announce it at your next college graduation ceremony. Send out a letter to your alumni to invite them to participate in the next continuing education course. Design a simple brochure which gives information about the program and how a person can register to participate. Try to keep the participant’s cost at a minimum that will cover the expenses (housing, meals, photocopy work, honorarium for the teachers, etc.). You may want to seek an outside financial source to help subsidize the program. Then you could offer partial scholarships to those who apply early. This will help motivate alumni to apply early.

8. Offer the first regular course. Do not be discouraged if the attendance is small at first. The first time we offered a continuing education course only four alumni participated. Since then, however, it has grown dramatically. Last year, when we offered our fourth annual continuing education course, we had thirty-seven people in attendance. As more and more alumni participate in these annual courses and experience the benefits of studying together, the word spreads and the attendance figures naturally grow. The first time you offer the program, you will probably only need to teach one course. However, as the attendance grows, you will need to offer multiple courses from which the alumni can choose. You will want to limit the size of each class so that participants will receive the optimum benefit from being in the course.

9. Design a certificate of completion that can be presented to all those who complete the course requirements and meet the attendance standards you set. Some form of written recognition is appreciated and valued by our alumni who take the continuing education courses.

10. Do continuous evaluation each time a course is offered. Design some type of evaluation form which can be completed by the continuing education course participants at the end of the course. Give them time to complete it during the final day of the course. If you send it home with them, you will most likely have only a few returned, but if you give them time to complete it before they leave campus, you will get a one hundred percent return rate. Your college’s continuing education committee should go over the evaluation forms thoroughly and make any necessary changes to improve the overall effectiveness of the program.

A FINAL WORD
The above ten steps are meant to serve as suggestions as to how a college can go about establishing a continuing education program for its alumni. These steps can be modified to fit your college’s unique situation. We have tried to follow these steps in our college’s program and we are very encouraged with how the program is developing and expanding. I trust these ten steps will challenge your thinking and motivate you and your college to start a continuing education program for your graduates. Offering such a program can be a great way to encourage and further equip your alumni as they continue to serve the Lord in ministry. Mutiso and countless others like him are eagerly waiting for us to design and implement these types of programs. We owe it to them.

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Mark Olander and his wife Jan have been serving in Kenya with Africa Inland Mission for twenty years in theological education. Most recently he was teaching at Moffat Bible College in Kijabe, Kenya.

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