With over 20 years of experience in higher education, particularly in continuing and professional studies, Casandra Blassingame has dedicated her career to meeting the needs of adult learners. And as the current CEO of the International Accreditors for Continuing Education & Training (IACET), she is also a doctoral candidate in the adult education program at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.
In this third episode of our seven-part series about the surge of the third sector of education, Jeff talks with Casandra about her role at IACET, how they’ve successfully adapted in times of change, and why accreditation is becoming increasingly more valuable. They also discuss reasons for the growth of the third sector and the related opportunities for those serving in it.
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[00:18] – Intro and background info about Casandra.
[01:15] – Can you tell us a little bit more about IACET? And I know you’re kind of new there too, so maybe a little bit about the role you’ve taken on and what your day-to-day activities look like there?
Casandra shares that she officially became CEO in January 2020, just two months before the pandemic hit.
But she did have a little history with IACET where she started about three years ago as a commissioner.
She explains that their commissioner teams are basically the review teams that award the accreditation, so they perform the review process and then go on site.
However, now they are actually conducting virtual site visits in order to maintain operations and make sure that training organizations are moving forward in their business plans.
Casandra says that while IACET has been around for over 30 years, in terms of its activity in developing the CEU, it was managed by an association management company.
So they’ve only been independent for three years and it’s almost like starting a new business.
While they are an accrediting body, they are also a standards-developing organization.
And they accredit training organizations across industries, including colleges, universities, and they are also accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
Adapting in Times of Change
[04:24] – You mentioned doing virtual accreditations now but what else has changed as a result of everything that’s happened out there this year?
Casandra talks about how the way they do business hasn’t only changed for them, but for the industry as a whole—and for those that are seeking the accreditation.
She attributes their ability to pivot and make the necessary adjustments not only to her experience and knowledge of IACET, but to just being a part of the continuing education/training industry, and the creativity that’s necessary to be successful in the industry.
Casandra says they are poised to assist training organizations or accredited providers in providing them with guidance around distance learning and how to now award CEUs to an online course versus it being face-to-face.
And they’ve been pretty successful in helping others with the transition as they’re working through it themselves.
She also attributes their success to having such a committed commissioning council, standards council, and board.
Everyone was uniquely aligned with where they knew the organization had to be taken and what needed to be done.
And now as they are getting back on track, everything is moving along pretty nicely.
However, Casandra recognizes that things are still very up in the air. But she says they’re ready for it.
Interactions with the Third Sector
[07:47] – You and I are talking as part of a podcast series we’re doing on the third sector of education, the sector made up of providers who serve adult lifelong learners after they’ve finished their formal degree-granting education. Where do you interact or have you interacted with that third sector of education, professionally and also personally if you’d like?
Casandra talks about how she’s interacted with the third sector her entire career.
First working for a trade school, then moving into continuing education and training at community colleges, and later into four-year schools.
She notes the Nation at Risk study from 1983, something she doesn’t think people reference enough as to why we are where we are in continuing ed, and in education period.
There was this movement that had everyone flocking to a four-year school. And if you went to a community college or a trade school, you weren’t necessarily seen in the best light.
She says the academy disconnected itself from industry with the belief that people just needed degrees—just the theoretical.
And while there’s a large faction of people that can get by on that and know how to apply that theory to the practical, she points out that there was still this group of people who were kind of left out.
Casandra adds that she’s enjoyed working in the continuing education and training space because she likes the creativity, making the connections, and she loves helping people partner to see how they can be a bigger part of what’s happening.
Personally, she discusses how she’s been the one seeking those credentials when getting her master’s, and now finishing up her PhD.
But even in her growing roles, no matter what her job is, Casandra recognizes that she still needs those practical skills.
That those skills will give her something she can take right away and apply, so that she can maintain her competitiveness in the field, or within the company she’s working for.
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Awareness of Other Providers in the Third Sector
[13:18] – Imagine a continuum labeled hodgepodge at one end and partnership at the other. What’s the level of awareness providers have of the other types of providers in the third sector? Where on the hodgepodge-to-partnership spectrum is the third sector as a whole? And where should it be?
Casandra notes that this year has certainly created some opportunities for partnering.
I think that more so now than ever, providers are aware of each other. They want to know what each other are doing and how they’re managing. And so, there’s a partnership within itself in terms of just peer support.
And she thinks we’ll start to see more and more of that in the future.
She says it’s essential to survival and to reaching various audiences.
But she points out there are things that affect individual training providers, and those things that affect them – whether it’s technology or the integration of another topic area – are things that drive those partnerships and the thought of seeking out one another.
Technology is also a big one and one that she gets concerned about, especially for smaller training organizations that they may or may not necessarily have the resources to keep that infrastructure, but who may have some really good content.
She encourages providers to seek those partnerships out.
And when seeking them out to make sure it’s not so one sided that you get swallowed up, but that it’s a win-win. Not only for you and the other provider, but also for the people who are seeking out the training.
The Growth of the Third Sector
[17:10] – Our view at Leading Learning is that this whole third sector has been growing in size and importance over the past few decades, and probably dramatically more so in the last several years. So, what’s your perspective? Do you agree that it’s been growing in importance and to the extent that you do, what do you think are the key factors contributing to that growth?
Casandra agrees and adds that not only are there people with bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees seeking out continuing/professional training, but that we’re going to also see some significant growth because trade and technical schools have also increased their enrollment.
She references institutions such as Ranken Technical College, who are combining their two and four-year degrees with apprenticeships and other certifications and licensers.
So students who graduate with those go on to obtain those licenses—and then have to use other providers to maintain those licenses through continuing education.
Casandra also points out that trade organizations, like the American Gear Manufacturers Association (her former employer), serve people with a very specific and technical continuing education needs.
Is it growing? Yes, [the third sector] is going to continue to grow, because…the trade school graduates will continue, you’ll still have your professional degree folks continuing on, and then you’ll have people who are maybe even out of work right now that need to skill up and acquire new skills to get that next job. So, lots of training going on right now and I don’t see it slowing down for a very long time. It should actually become a way of society’s life, if you will, but we believe that as adult learners, right?
Major Opportunities for the Third Sector
[21:33] – What do you see as some of the major opportunities for the third sector right now? And then, to the extent that you can maybe highlight some specific ways in which IACET is working to address those opportunities.
Casandra thinks the major opportunities are the continued growth and individuals that will need to be served.
And that anyone who is looking to maybe even start a training organization should do an environmental scan to really see what the needs are that are out there for training.
She also strongly encourages partnerships in that as well.
Casandra says they continue to pay attention to their providers, they’re responsive and delivering solutions, and that they do their fair share of surveying their accredited providers.
So they’ve been able to capture some meaningful data and to provide some professional development and other resources in a timely response to everything that’s been going on.
As a staff of nine, they are a very small organization doing a lot of big things and they depend very heavily on their volunteer leaders.
And while their commission is not necessarily volunteer, they work with them through the accreditation processes and they are located all over the world (in about 21 different countries now).
They are making sure they have their ear to the ground, and they depend pretty heavily on their commission and standards council who bring back a lot of intel.
This really helps inform the way they do business and the way they’re servicing accredited providers and future applicants for the accreditation process.
So they make sure they are taking all of that in and plugging it into their strategic plan in order to maintain their responsiveness to the industry.
IACET and Digital Badges
[24:35] – I noticed on the IACET website that digital badges are highlighted and that seems to be a focus for you right now. Can you say a little bit more about what kind of opportunity you’re seeing there and whether it’s badges, whether it’s just alternative credentialing, in general? And maybe how those dovetail with the CEU as a unit of measurement as well?
Casandra discusses how open digital badging is a standard that is developing at IACET. They are trying to make sure they are on the forefront of that, also working with a university professor on their training team to develop it.
They have really just begun to start to market and reframe how they are delivering those training courses to make it more meaningful.
And those changes come from being informed by industry.
So now they are taking a look at their target audiences, who they are, and who is interested in the digital badging credential.
As it connects and relates to the CEU, Casandra says what they see is kind of another credential, versus an actual CEU (although there may be CEU weight attached to that particular course).
But there are people who are interested in just having those kind of certificates—it’s just another format of a certificate.
On the higher ed side of the fence, Casandra doesn’t necessarily see a place for digital badging.
Rather, they are primarily focused on just getting their degree.
Whereas, if people are working on specific skill sets, those benchmarks are not only helpful in helping them to feel achieved and accomplished, but they also provide a set of very real credentials that are accepted by a particular industry.
The Role of Accreditation in the Third Sector
[27:52] – Can you talk a little bit more about the role of accreditation in lifelong learning, in the third sector? So, for example, the CEU, that’s a standard that you have established, a credit you are providers of. Why, in your mind, is that important? And do you see that growing in importance as there’s more and more focus on lifelong learning?
Casandra shares that she does see the growth and how she’s been watching IACET since about 2006.
She’s been very pleasantly surprised to see the growth that the organization has experienced even since then, not only a number in terms of a credit provider, but the establishment of the standard and the accreditation.
They are on their third version of the standard and it continues to improve at the hands of their commission. This is based upon feedback that they get from their accredited providers that are going through the application process and people that are going through the application process even prior to them becoming accredited.
So there’s definitely has been some consistent growth over the years and Casandra sees that continuing in the future.
They are also starting to see more colleges and universities seek their accreditation out.
Even when she worked on the traditional side of the house, going through regional accreditation experiences, Casandra notes there wasn’t really anything that would accredit or provide some framework for the continuing education side of the house to operate.
And the IACET 2018 standard does just that—it provides that framework, the background information on training adults, how you should operate, how to develop a course, and what the instructional design should look like.
It also provides for how you conduct the business in terms of record keeping and transcripting, doing the CEU calculation, and making sure that you are providing a viable and assessed learning experience for people who are seeking it out.
Becoming Accredited by IACET
[30:53] – Say an organization is offering continuing education experiences and it wants to be accredited to provide the official CEU to be earned as part of those experiences. What does a training/education provider have to go through to become accredited by IACET?
Casandra starts off by explaining what it means to be an accredited provider.
Having an accreditation, whether it’s programmatic or organizational, (they provide an organizational accreditation), means that you have a competitive advantage.
So the accreditation gives the training organization the recognition by all the authorized industry professionals/certifying/licensing bodies, that demonstrates they have followed some kind of a framework. This ensures their training program is a quality program.
To become accredited it’s strongly encouraged that you attend a workshop, you purchase the standard and the application, and you begin to work through that.
And then you would continue on the process by paying the applicable fees and submitting the application to then begin the review process, which usually takes about three months or less.
Casandra says it really just depends on how well you have your processes and your policies documented. And on whether you’ve actually offered your program for at least three months and been in business for at least a year.
Threats Facing the Third Sector
[33:22] – There are obviously plenty of providers out there who are not accredited, who we don’t necessarily know what standards they’re adhering to. In many ways, the broader world of adult lifelong learning is a little bit of a wild west, which it seems could potentially damage the ability for lifelong learning to be taken seriously by employers and others who are having to kind of gauge it. Do you see that as a threat at all? Is it one you’re really trying to address with your work? And then, what other threats are out there right now that may stand in the way of the third sector really being appreciated and valued to the degree that it could be?
Casandra asserts that she doesn’t feel like there are any threats to what they’re doing at this point in time. She thinks that the time of threat for continuing education has passed and there are now schools of continuing and professional studies all over the place.
She references Clark Atlanta University, who, like most schools, had to flip the switch and take all there students virtually.
And they are now seeking accreditation.
Their entire university, the academic side of the house, has now turned their attention to continuing education—and that was the unit that took the entire university online, with a staff of only about five or six people.
She says they’re probably not the only institution that has thought to do that but that it just makes sense for others who don’t have that side developed to look into it.
It speaks volumes to the leadership of an institution that values and places a lot of value on the continuing education arms of the institution.
So Casandra sees a lot of opportunity and they’ve seen an increase in interest and leads.
They’ve also had testimonies where people have said accreditation has literally saved their business.
The Future of the Third Sector
[37:52] – When you look at to that sort of future of the third sector in general, what are you seeing? Is it continued growth? Are there disruptions that are coming? Looking into your crystal ball, what’s out there?
Casandra shares that the only disruption that she can foresee will be technology and how technology and the advancement of various industries happen.
She says technology was a disruption that actually saved them all this year by moving to Zoom.
But she thinks that within various industries, the technologies that evolved could be a little bit of a disruptor, especially for smaller training organizations, and manufacturing, in particular.
I don’t even think that technology…or automation is causing people to lose jobs. I think it causes for people to skill up…
[40:10] – And for those who are providing the training/education, basically, those providers to this third sector, thinking about the potential for technology disruption, and maybe other types of disruption that are going to come along, any final words of advice or caution you would have for those who are serving the third sector?
Casandra recommends that you make sure your programs are really strong.
So strengthen them and make sure that you are doing your due diligence, being informed by the industry, whether it’s yourself or subject matter experts.
And she suggests seeking out some kind of an accreditation, whether it’s an organizational accreditation or a programmatic accreditation—whatever is going to work for you in order to attract your constituents to come to you and see you as a leader in their respective industry.
[41:14] – Wrap-Up
Casandra Blassingame is CEO of the International Accreditors for Continuing Education and Training. Learn more about IACET at iacet.org.
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[42:54] – Sign off
Other Episodes in This Series:
- The Third Sector of Education
- Long Life Learning with Michelle Weise
- Reflecting with Anthony Carnevale
- Continuous Development with Nigel Paine
- Uncovering Opportunity in Challenges with LaTrease Garrison
- The Third Sector of Education: Sustaining and Shaping Society
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