Personal and intellectual growth are important factors as we progress through life, and continue to serve us in numerous ways, whether it be for a career or for leisure. Throughout our lifetimes, we may go from career to career. Some of us may want to brush up on our skills, and others just want to take up fun and interesting hobbies. Gainesville is home to two higher-education institutions that recognize the importance of continual education that is flexible and convenient for its participants.
The University of Florida has a program for distance and continuing education as well as professional development. Eric Ryan, the coordinator for UF’s Professional Development program, said the program was created to extend UF’s world-class academic experience to working people looking to boost their professional lives. The program, which has been operating under Distance and Continuing Education since 1972, caters to non-traditional students, alumni and working professionals, as well as the general public.
The needs of different audiences are addressed through four major programs that include Professional Development, Executive Education, Conferences, and UF Flexible Learning, according to Ryan. Professional Development courses are mostly self-paced and online, while the Conference Department organizes workshops for networking opportunities. Professional Development offers three types of programs: pre-certification, which prepares students for a certifying exam; pre-licensure, in which students can earn the professional credential of an industry; and continuing education, which enhances students’ current skills in a specific area. Executive Education, Ryan said, utilizes UF’s resources to provide a customized training program that will satisfy individual and company needs. This comes in the form of business management certificates in leadership, human resources, information technology and marketing. Program coordinators listen to clients and are able to gain knowledge of each company’s specific training needs, whether that be in soft skills or certificates in management or leadership. This leads to a more personalized training program that prepares leaders for the ever-changing business environment.
Ryan said he loves hearing the way the training program has impacted the lives of these individuals. “Although some of our students are hesitant to take an online course, the experience and education we provide to them is enhancing their lives, and we’re grateful for that,” said Ryan. All of the courses, he said, are meticulously designed to fully meet the needs of the adult learner. The highest enrollment course offered is Professional Development’s Nutrition and Foodservice Professional Training. Started in 1972, this course teaches students how to pass the exam and become certified as dietary managers.
“We’re looking to enhance the student experience from the time that they are a prospective student to the time that they complete the online program” – Eric Ryan, Coordinator for UF’s Professional Development Program
UF Distance Learning also offers personal growth programs. Ryan said courses like “Before You Tie the Knot” and “9 Important Communication $kills for Talking About Money” are designed to hone in on relationship skills and help people to develop outside of their career goals. Over 100 types of these courses are available, and most are ongoing and can be started at any time. “Before You Tie the Knot” is a premarital program that guides couples into married life by having couples recognize each other’s needs and communicate effectively about aspects such as parenting, conflict and money management. “9 Important Communication $kills for Talking About Money” works on communication between family members about finances. The course readies its students to discuss family matters in constructive and effective ways.
New courses have recently been added to the already extensive course list. Because of this expansion, finding a course that fits a student’s goals can get tricky. The Continuing Education Marketplace, launching in August, will merge all of this information into one, user-friendly database, said Ryan. Prospective students will be able to simply type in keywords or select a college of interest and the website will filter its results. “We’re looking to enhance the student experience from the time that they are a prospective student to the time that they complete the online program,” explained Ryan.
While UF offers many options for continuing education, the options for intellectual development in Greater Gainesville don’t end there. Santa Fe College has world-class programs for continuing education and corporate training, which offer non-degree certificates. Santa Fe also offers a multitude of online courses, with corporate education and training offered on-site at the school.
Lisa Anderson is the coordinator for the program, which has served about 2,500 students online and in person in the last year. Anderson said that a certificate from this program is used to directly enter the workforce. The program offers a variety of classes ranging from accounting programs to healthcare-related training.
The program offers rolling enrollment to individuals looking to hone in on their skills, as well as employers that are looking to further train their employees. With close to 600 online courses, most of which are offered all day, every day, some students can even do coursework during the business day if the class is considered work-related. Dug Jones is the associate vice president for economic development. He explained that most of the industry certifications are skill-based. Certificates, while not degrees, are a more hands-on way of verifying experience. According to Jones, Santa Fe is unique in that it offers the most customized experience possible to its students. Program coordinators will tailor every program to each student’s distinctive needs. “We don’t tell them what the student needs to learn. We ask them,” noted Jones.
The program also holds a special relationship with CareerSource of North Central Florida, which is the regional workforce board for Alachua. CareerSource partners with businesses, government and training organizations to build a competitive workforce. This is especially important, because CareerSource works with Santa Fe to help provide funding for training. Jones said while some clients can afford training, others need training because they are out of work. CareerSource will work with those people and give the program a check to help pay for some clients’ training.
The program’s clients are typically over the age of 25 and are diverse in demographics. Anderson said that this program is also great for people who just want a change of pace or are switching jobs. “A lot of times we advise, too,” Anderson said. Some clients, for example, will call up and say, “I haven’t worked in a while. I think I want to sell insurance.” After this, program coordinators will talk to clients about how the classes work and what the best course of action is for each individual. Most important, SF’s program is agile and offers something for everyone. Jones said that the best thing people can do is reach out. He stresses that the program is willing to work with anyone, including individuals who have ideas for new programs and want to teach a course.
Santa Fe not only offers career continuing education, but also a robust Community Education program, with between 120 and 180 instructor-led classes per term. Most classes can be enrolled in at any time and are online. Community Education sees the value in personal enrichment by offering courses for fun and leisure —touching over 3,500 students per year with their various programs. These wide-ranging programs include historical walking tours, cooking, craft, fitness and computer classes. The College for Kids programs, also part of Community Education, offer various summer programs, a “Space Challenge” during spring break and a year-round robotics program for home-schoolers. The various College for Kids programs will touch almost 800 students this year. Both career and Community Education have similar enrollment numbers, showing how important both career and personal growth is to applicants.
It’s apparent by the many choices offered by both institutions, that Gainesville is one of the best places to be for anyone looking to further his or her education in a specific field, trying to switch careers, or just searching for fun and helpful courses that can be applied to everyday life. With the use of online learning, it’s easier than ever to sign up for a course and learn from the comfort of your own home. These courses are at your fingertips — you just decide when, where and what you want to learn.