Executive Education: New Pathways to Success

When UNR Extended Studies program held a series of leadership sessions for Barrick Gold, the event embodied new trends in executive education in Nevada.When the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) Extended Studies program held a series of leadership sessions for Barrick Gold, the event embodied new trends in executive education in Nevada.

The 15 courses held over two months were shorter than the training once offered by business schools and colleges. Instead of theoretical discussions of leadership, the program covered specific issues requested by Barrick Gold, which had wanted to design a customized leadership development program.

In contrast to the way most companies traditionally conduct executive education, Barrick Gold worked with the college to develop a needs assessment and sought input from every level of the company to see if it was what they needed. Jodi Herzik, executive director of Professional Development Programs at UNR, said her staff then worked with Barrick Gold to design specific curriculum that met the mining company’s identified needs.

“These programs allow businesses to build the staff they need to be more productive and successful,” Herzik said. “These contract training programs also allow us to provide more specific training.”

In Barrick Gold’s case, Herzik said the result was a series of 15 courses held during a two month period covering topics such as developing a business plan, building high performance teams and the legal environment of business. UNR’s Extended Studies program held the courses in Elko, which meant less impact logistically for Barrick Gold employees.

“It’s a much different business than before the recession,” said Emmanuel Sarris, director of continuing education at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). “We do have some corporate clients, but our continuing and executive education programs offer 25 to 40 different types of courses.”

Herzik said UNR has three or four employees meeting with corporate clients to create the courses they need.

“Adult learning is so different from K-12 or college,” Herzik said. “We listen to the client and develop the curriculum. It needs to apply to their lives and they need to take it back to their job the next day and use it.”

Business of Education

Executive education is a business that is on the upswing, especially after the recession in 2008 when companies cut training budgets. The timing of that growth has been fortuitous. As the economic recovery continues in Nevada, more and more students are now being assisted by employers to pay off tuition.

While both UNR and UNLV officials declined to disclose their revenues, customized executive programs may be lucrative for the schools.

For example, a UNLV Public Relations Certificate costs between $150 and $320 per class.  With six required courses, including crisis communications, media relations and writing for public relations, the cost of that certificate in public relations can run as high as $1,920.

“Most people who take these courses move into the workforce pretty quickly,” Sarris said “They are priced very differently than a course at UNLV. We look at what the expenses are and how many students we have. That’s how we price it.”

Sarris cautioned that certificate and executive courses aren’t eligible for federal grants. “Even the GI Bill for veterans doesn’t cover our program,” he said.

That doesn’t mean there is no financial assistance for those who need it. There are grants and other funding, including Sallie Mae loans.

Certificate Program Offerings

A certifcate course takes the form of individual classes, a series of classes or even customized course work. Herzik said they are designed for executives and employees who want to keep up with current business trends or update their skills. She said she has noticed a growing working population taking certificate courses to change careers or move into a different position within their current career.

UNR’s Extended Studies offers certificate programs from project management essentials to human resources management and from gaming management services to project management. Herzik added that these courses, designated to enhance someone’s ability to manage projects and lead employees, are in demand.

“Our project management program is booming,” Herzik said. “It gives people the skills on how to build a team, manage a small or large scale project and create timelines. The lessons learned can be used in any industry. Right now this course is heavily used in the construction industry to train their employees to run operations.”

Certificate and executive education programs have become a crucial tool for universities to extend their reach into the business community locally and in communities beyond Las Vegas.

“We had a group from South Korea come in last year to learn various management skills and some parts of the gaming and hospitality industries,” Sarris said. “We did everything for them from hosting lectures in the morning to taking them to various Strip hotels for onsite classes.”

Sarris said those management seminars included leadership, staff development, gaming and hospitality. Participants would then spend the afternoon with a hotel executive talking about leadership to get a hands on feel for the business to take back to South Korea, he said.

One primary driver of these programs is that careers are becoming longer and longer. Even if employees or managers are particularly talented, they may need to add new skills to renew their knowledge of a specific industry.

“We offer training programs to make people better,” Sarris said. “Whether it’s getting them into a classroom to train them for a new career or update their skills to continue in their role or work.”

UNLV’s Continuing Education also offers non-credit classes and customized education programs. Sarris said classes for business executives are available in the areas of communications, entrepreneurship and finance. These classes, which last anywhere from one session to five sessions, change throughout the year.

As for certificate programs, UNLV offers courses in fashion design, human resources management, Internet design and technology, public relations and the UNLV Grant Academy.

The UNLV Grant Academy is one of the school’s new courses and was designed to train employees in the art of applying for grants, which is lacking in Las Vegas.

“We’ve had pretty good success with our course offerings,” Sarris said. “If we don’t have a curriculum already prepared, we will develop one if notified far enough in advance. There is a pretty extensive need for these courses. We don’t go into it blind. If something isn’t working, we’ll put it on the shelf and do more research.”

Sarris said one of the more successful certificate programs is the Sommelier Academy. He describes it as a 30-week, hands-on, interactive learning program where students learn the complexities and nuances of wine.

The program offers two classes. The introductory program, Vine to Wine, teaches wine enthusiasts, wine collectors or early-career beverage professionals to make informed purchase decisions and recommend wines to customers.

According to UNLV, the Advanced Sommelier Program targets wine professionals seeking to advance their careers, gain more knowledge and a larger exposure to the business of wine.

“We built this certificate program from scratch,” Sarris said. “We thought there would be interest from the local hospitality industry in these offerings. We are a year and a half in and have had tremendous success.”

Sarris said there were 76 people enrolled in the program, with nine in their final classes.

Stick to the Basics

While UNLV and UNR have been successful with their executive and certificate programs, Nevada State College is still considering launching a program on the Henderson campus.

Nevada State College is a four-year degree granting institution that has considered offering accelerated courses, and also making a move into executive and continuing education. However, the college, which has seen its budgets adversely affected by the recession, has put off offering these courses for the time being.

“We’ve talked about it,” said Spencer Stewart, vice president of college relations with Nevada State College. “It is in our future plans, but we are focusing on undergraduate students.”

Stewart said the continuing education market is certainly a demand that needs to be satisfied. He said the demand for these course offerings are being met by the College of Southern Nevada and UNLV.

“It’s a growing market,” Stewart said. “At the appropriate time Nevada State College will try to meet the needs of that market. The college is going through a period of strategic planning. It really is up to the planning committee to determine what we’ll offer.”

Nevada State College already offers degrees in Biology, business administration, criminal justice, history, nursing and secondary education.

“We have to consider what we want our brand to be,” Stewart said. “There are new audiences and new populations to serve and it’s a delicate balance to have the sufficient resources. Continuing education programs for the most part are self-funded.”

Stewart said with the economy starting to come back there is more demand than ever for these continuing and executive programs. He added that Nevada State College is also looking into ventures with corporate clients, but the college will do a demand assessment first.

“A demand assessment of what the employers need,” Stewart said. “Define what the skill sets are and, in some cases, project future skill sets to align them with the region or state as a whole. We are looking at this comprehensively.”

Alternative Options

While colleges and universities offer these programs, VegasPBS, which is known as the Las Vegas home of “Masterpiece Theater” and the “New Hour”, offers a wide-range of continuing education courses through its GOAL, or Global Online Advance Learning, program. The difference is they are only offered online.

“We don’t compete with UNLV and UNR,” said Debra Solt, director of workforce training and economic development at VegasPBS. “Our program was spawned to help deal with the highest unemployment rate in the nation.”

According to Solt, six years ago there was a massive need to retrain people for new jobs. That need still remains, she added.
“We are a media technology company whose roots are in education,” Solt said. “All our classes are offered online. Much of continuing education was time and place bound or brick-and-mortar. Now to get the training or education [people] need, it’s online. The trick is to make sure it does have the academic rigor of a traditional classroom.”

VegasPBS offers traditional continuing or executive education courses in executive leadership or management, accounting or writing programs. The organization offers some 5,000 online courses, with medical records, pharmacy and paralegal training among the most popular courses.

However, the public television station’s bread and butter is in using GOAL to provide a very basic education. Most of the basic learning from the program is directed towards English language learers.

“Life happens to these people,” Solt said. “So whether it’s in a classroom or online you will not get them to be successful unless you can offer these courses on their terms. Online is a little easier to accomplish [for them] because they can keep coming back in and doing the same lecture until they get it right.”

She said providing continuing education and licensing is also part of the job description. For example, VegasPBS manages the food handler card for the Southern Nevada Health District (SNHD).

“Cards expire every day,” Solt said. “We want to be in a position to provide our clients what they need. We manage everything that goes on with the SNHD card renewals.”

Solt added that online continuing or executive education is about access, ease and the ability to complete the course on your schedule.

“In a 24-hour economy, ours is a 24-hour learning platform,” she said. “There are drawbacks. Online learning isn’t for everyone and some may want to pursue executive or continuing education programs in a traditional setting. For others, an online education is their only option.”