On January 23rd, 1909, The White Star Line ship, The Republic, collided at sea with the Italian ship, The Florida. That collision resulted in the very first wireless distress call in passenger ship history. Another White Star ship, The Baltic, responded to the distress call and provided aid to the 1,650 afflicted passengers and crew. This modern marvel of wireless communication prompted global providers of luxury ocean conveyance to discard the notion that people left shipless in the waters of the open sea might perish. Despite the evidence of contemporary naval history, it was determined that the costly and space-consuming convention of providing life boats for All of the on-board passengers and crew was now obsolete. From that time forward lifeboats would be at most a form of emergency water-taxi that would ferry passengers from the damaged vessel to a rescue vessel that responded to the distress call in the always-populated shipping lanes. Human life would be preserved.
In April of 1912, some three years after this great wireless revelation, another White Star Lines ship, the Titanic, proved that the gods of the oceans took a dim view of the technological hubris of the time and the luxury of a sufficient number of life boats would never again be diminished.
The thirty-nine month period between the rescue of the shipwrecked passengers by the Baltic and the sinking of the Titanic has become an analogue of where university sanctioned continuing education is stuck, today. The hubristic notion that formal education on any level is fundamental to an ignorant population no matter how well, or poorly, it is managed has warped the business model of running an educational enterprise into discarding its lifeboats to provide room for anecdotal and desultory educational notions.
Acute vision, so important to any organization to determine where it is, where it intends to go and and how it plans to arrive at its intended destination: was lacking on the Titanic as it raced at flank speed through the shipping lanes of the North Atlantic at night. It couldn't see the distant iceberg in the foggy dark. And when it could finally see the impending collision, it lacked the flexibility to make a sharp course correction and avoid the fatal hazard.
Continuing education is taking on water and listing. While it hasn't, yet, foundered and sank, it continues to throw the remaining lifeboats overboard to lighten its load. The population it was designed to serve is, at least partly, unaware that it exists and of the educational services it provides. Where that population is aware of the services of continuing education, it fails to see the relevance of the offered learning experience. While colleges and universities struggle with their vision and direction of non-credit and professional development course offerings, community colleges and independent training facilities entice potential students with well-marketed and, sometimes, highly relevant training opportunities.
Discontinuing education in colleges and universities would be an awful end to an educational enterprise with such vitality and promise. The mission of providing college level training to a part-time population that is eager to acquire specific subject area knowledge is far too important to be abandoned to mismanagement, rigid curricula or the disconnected attitudes of the incorrectly perceived proper aims of education.
The Titanic disaster, at the cost of 1523 human lives, changed passenger shipping forever by correcting the mistakes made by proud ship builders and poorly implemented technology. Continuing education, though sinking, still has the chance to correct its fatal mistakes and avoid its complete failure. It remains an open question whether continuing education has the resolve, talent, and vision to escape slipping beneath the waves.