Leaning on Continuing Education
to Adapt to the 60-Year Curriculum

Higher education developed around the concept of a three-stage lifeeducation for the first 18-24 years, work for the next 35-45 years, and then retirement. The concept worked well for growing industrial economies. Today, the concept doesn’t work  

People are living much longer lives. According to a 2009 research paper, people in the U.S. born after 2000 stand a 50% chance of living up to 100 years.1 This means that people will need to work for a longer time to have enough savings for retirement 

As people live longer and economies become knowledge-driven, lives have become multi-stage and complex. People need to retool in order to keep up with changing economic developments. They must upgrade their knowledge and skills frequently and do this across their lifetime. 

“Since the emergence of the global economy, rapidly evolving knowledge work and much longer lives in the West, it is clear people will live 4-, 5-, 6-, and even 7-stage lives,” Hunt Lambert of Harvard University told The EvoLLLution® 

 Lambert believes that postsecondary institutions must evolve to adapt to this mindset.Higher education needs to evolve to serve the learner from before they arrive in college through after they retire to help citizens be great professional, civic and social contributors, he said.  

Table of Contents

Demystifying the 60-Year Curriculum

The approach of serving lifelong learners has given rise to the concept of the 60-Year Curriculum. Coined by Gary Matkin of the University of California, Irvine, the 60-Year Curriculum is a framework to keep learners engaged with relevant learning opportunities across their entire lives. The concept considers education to be recurring, as opposed to a single, standalone event.  

Chris Dede of Harvard University explains how the 60-Year Curriculum is necessary to transform lifelong learning. The 60 Year Curriculum initiative is focused on developing new educational models that enable each person to reskill as their occupational and personal context shifts, he wrote on The EvoLLLution.  

Fred Anger (1)

According to Rovy Branon of the University of Washington, postsecondary institutions must focus on five key areas to deliver the 60-Year Curriculum.

1.  Develop the meta-curricular framework 

Most higher education institutions still consider education to be a one-time event. But as learning becomes lifelong, this definition will need to become more holistic.  

The meta-curriculum framework seeks to unite learning that occurs across a lifetime, and across multiple engagements. The framework helps prepare postsecondary institutions to serve learners from their childhood into their multi-stage careers and beyond. Institutions need to work more intentionally to deliver education across this wider array of access points. They need to transform their approach to curriculum design and development. This means enabling a variety of flexible and granular programming options—credentials, certificates, courses, and programsthat help learners develop or enhance skills in their chosen fields at any stage of life.   

Valerie Delleville of Western Governors University believes that flexibility is key to create curriculums that support lifelong learning.  

Developing programs with smaller chunks of learning can drive successful student outcomes, career transitions, and the ability for students to determine their own life pathway,” she wrote on The EvoLLLution.    

2. Transform student services and experience 


Delivering an elite customer experience is critical to the success of the 60-Year Curriculum. But for that to happen, higher education must first acknowledge that learners are their customers. Learners expect a customer-centric environment that prioritizes their needs. They prefer to engage on their terms and shop for education like any other product or service. Learners consider education as an investment of their time and resources, and they want to see tangible outcomes. Institutions must value learners’ time and enable services that put learners in charge of their learning.    

Ed Massey of Indian River State College considers student-centricity to be a defining feature of the postsecondary institution of the future. 

You have to have a culture in your college centered around the students, and student learning needs to be the top priority on campus. That’s the only way to develop techniques that are effective for today’s students,” he told The EvoLLLution.  

He also spoke about the development of student-centric processes in institutions. “It must be an intentional effort to look at the processes within the institution that make the biggest difference in the performance of your students.   

Student centricity is also about helping learners make the right program choices at the right time. To do this effectively, institutions need access to rich data about student preferences and outcomes. This data can be used to generate actionable intelligence that can help institutions connect learners to learning experiences when they need them. 

Ed Massey-4

Lisa R. Braverman of Fairleigh Dickinson University encourages institutions to gather better student data to improve their quality of services. She suggests using well-designed data gathering tools to elicit student information and support their success  

Become experts not only about your students’ ages, states of residency and ethnicities, but also the history they bring along with them and also their future plans, goals and dreams in order to give your institution a better shot at helping your students achieve their true objectives—since this is what they feel they are paying for and expect in return,” she wrote on The EvoLLLution. 

3. Incorporate alternative credentials 

Alternate forms of learning outside the traditional degree are growing in the U.S. According to IPEDS data, there was an increase in non-degree awards and certificates from under 600,000 issued in 2001-02 to almost one million in 2013-14.2 As the need for learning increases, institutions will need to deliver education in more customizable ways.   

Alternative credentials allow institutions to do that. These credentials enable institutions to unbundle their two or four-year programs into smaller chunks of skills and learning. Learners don’t have to wait to meet all requirements for a degree and instead can receive a credential after a much shorter period of study. If institutions want, they can enable stackability and let learners combine these alternative credentials to progress towards a certificate or even a degree.  

Joann Kozyrev of Western Governors University believes in the value of alternative credentials. Institutions can also more readily account for advances in technology or shifts in student demand through these credentials because it is easier to update a portion of a credential than overhaul an entire degree program, she wrote on The EvoLLLution.  

And of course, most importantly, these stackable credentials may help institutions achieve their educational student-centered mission. 


4. Deploy purpose-built technology 

Lifelong learners have different expectations than the 18- to 22-year-old students. Many are already in jobs and looking to speed up the development of their skills. They are pressed for time and expect that all programming related information is available to them in a few clicks. Lifelong learners want enrollment to be easy   

Main-campus technologies make enrollment a cumbersome task for learners. The challenge with using existing campus-based technologies is that they prioritize administrative needs over the needs of the learners. They work for staff and not the learner, and even then, they often put a significant strain on staff efficiency and effectiveness.   

Mark Mrozinski of Harper College concurs that postsecondary institutions can’t afford to serve lifelong learners with main campus systems. “Unfortunately, most online enrollment registration systems in higher ed grew up around the physical structure of the college or university, and were built with an administrative focus in mind rather than the needs of the student,” he told The EvoLLLution. 

Today, institutions need to offer a more diverse set of credentials, flexible catalogs of offerings, and an elite customer experience. Colleges and universities need to track and map each learner’s journey across decades of life. Staff need access to data to make informed decisions about serving learners and guiding them through their learning journey.  Unfortunately, traditional technology is not geared to do all of this. Institutions must implement purpose-built technologies that consider learner needs and allow colleges and universities to use data to deliver learning in modern and flexible ways.    

Mark Mrozinski

5. Explore new funding models 

The student debt crisis has grown to unheard-of levels, rising to $1.5 trillion in 2019.3 Postsecondary leaders must understand the severe financial pressure facing student borrowers and find alternative funding models to help students stay relevant without incurring further debt.  

One way to do this is by driving down the costs of the existing offerings. This is achievable by streamlining existing operations and transforming current processes. Another innovative way is to work with corporations to introduce tuition reimbursement plans. These plans encourage employees to develop their skills, while their employer pays back a portion or the full tuition amount. While tuition reimbursement programs have traditionally been aligned to credit-bearing programs, it’s time for postsecondary institutions to pursue these with gusto for non-credit programming too. Many institutions have begun partnering with businesses to offer customized training and skills development certificates to employees. Such a model keeps employees relevant without adding to their financial burden.   

Diane Johnson, formerly of New Charter University, explained the benefits of tuition reimbursement models. “The company is investing in their employees so that, in the end, the company can benefit from the increased expertise,” she wrote on The EvoLLLution.  

Employees realize that they must continue to do well in their jobs in order to keep those jobs and continue to benefit from their tuition benefits.”     

Unbundling degrees into certificates and microlearning options is another way for postsecondary institutions to make learning affordable. Unbundling allows students to progress through their education in smaller chunks at a fraction of a cost.  

The Role of Continuing Education Divisions in Delivering the 60-Year Curriculum

Delivering a 60-Year Curriculum to fruition can sound daunting, but it isn’t. One place where postsecondary institutions can look for guidance is their continuing education (CE) division. These divisions have been serving learners in flexible ways and doing it successfully.  

Nelson Baker of the Georgia Institute of Technology advocates leveraging the expertise of CE units to serve lifelong learners. “Having served lifetime learners for decades, professional, continuing and online education units are ideally poised to steer their universities through uncharted waters and take the lead in shaping the future of higher education,” he wrote on The EvoLLLution.   

Their experience with this growing learner demographic enables them to help their institutions navigate change, integrate adult learners into their communities and develop meaningful offerings to serve their needs. 

CE units are at the forefront of innovation and change. They already serve a growing demographic of lifelong learners and understand their expectations. These units keep pace with changing labor market demands through their programming. As CE units operate in a market-focused environment, they are ideal for testing new ideas before their introduction across the broader institution. 

CE units also work closely with industry and keep an eye on their needs. They can act as a bridge between institutions and industry, enabling institutions to draw useful insights about workplace skills. Postsecondary institutions can use this intelligence to inform program development and create courses that are in line with market requirements.    

Finally, CE units have a history of supporting the success of learners that main campuses typically consider “at risk”. These learners, who are balancing numerous priorities and expect to see immediate results from their education, require a different approach to advising and support than traditional students tend to receive. To facilitate the shift to a 60-Year Curriculum model, colleges and universities could leverage the student support expertise that lives in their CE divisions—and the customer history data these divisions tend to keep—to enhance the quality of career and academic advising offered to all learners. 

Empowering Continuing Education Divisions to Play a More Central Role


CE units play a critical role in enabling non-traditional learners to access education and succeed. They are the change agents who can help institutions to think differently about teaching and learning. These units can help institutions develop new approaches to serve learners and deliver the 60-Year Curriculum.  

Yet, they have been operating on the periphery of their institutions. As the number of non-traditional learners increases and the importance of innovation and efficiency grows across higher education, CE units can take on a more strategic role within the institution.   

Institutional leaders will need to put in a concerted effort to help CE units elevate their role. They will need to build trust between the academic units and the CE division and define a shared sense of purpose and encourage communication across all institutional departments  

Jeffery Russell of the University of Wisconsin Madison deems CE divisions will expand their role to help institutions adapt to the 60-Year Curriculum. I think continuing education units have a lot to offer our fellow university divisions and schools. If non-traditional students are becoming the new normal in higher education, the same can be said about teaching modalities that have been outside the norm,” he told The EvoLLLution.  

Hopefully, our experience in this area, as well as our expertise in serving adult, lifelong learners, positions us to be an invaluable resource for campus partners.” 


1. Christensen, Kaare; Doblhammer, Gabriele; Rau, Roland; Vaupel, James W; “Ageing populations: the challenges ahead”; NCBI website; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2810516/; accessed February 10, 2020   

2. Fong, Jim; Janzow, Peter; Peck, Kyle; “Demographic Shifts in Educational Demand and the Rise of Alternative Credentials”; UPCEA website; June 2016; https://upcea.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Demographic-Shifts-in-Educational-Demand-and-the-Rise-of-Alternative-Credentials.pdf; accessed February 11, 2020 

3. Friedman, Zack; “Student Loan Debt Statistics In 2019: A $1.5 Trillion Crisis”, Forbes website; February 25, 2019; https://www.forbes.com/sites/zackfriedman/2019/02/25/student-loan-debt-statistics-2019/#5751f0ad133f; accessed February 11, 2020 

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