Sharing University Intellectual Capital: The Role of Continuing Education

New England's research universities are widely recognized as major contributors to the region's economy. In many of the communities in which they are located, they rank among the largest employers. They purchase goods and services from New England companies, and are often among the leading procurers of construction activity. Each year, they bring billions of dollars in federal research funding into the region.

Research universities are not only significant enterprises in their own right-they are also part of the infrastructure that supports other sectors of New England's knowledge-based economy. They are an important source of the new knowledge that drives the region's growth. At both the undergraduate and graduate levels, they play a central role in meeting the region's near-insatiable demand for people with higherlevel skills. Moreover, many of New England's leading universities have over the past decade become much more effective at "technology transfer," facilitating the translation of academic research into new businesses and new jobs.

There is, however, one aspect of the research universities' role in the regional economy that has not been as widely recognized: some of New England's leading research universities are also leading providers of continuing education for working adults. Harvard University's Extension School, for example, has been characterized as "Harvard's best-kept secret." The Extension School offers associate and bachelor's degrees. It also offers post-baccalaureate certificate and master's degree programs in a variety of career-oriented fields, including computer science, e-commerce, publishing and communications, museum management, environmental management and teaching mathematics. In addition to enrolling in degree or certificate programs, students may choose to take just one or a few courses-either for career purposes or simply for personal enrichment. In the spring of 2002, 8,431 individuals took courses at the Extension School, averaging about 1.7 course enrollments each. If the Extension School were a freestanding community college, it would be one of the largest in eastern Massachusetts.

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