What Is Continuing Education? | BestColleges (2024)


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Whitney Sandoval is a writer and educator who is passionate about accessibility, inclusion, and equity in education. Her work has also appeared in Healthline, What to Expect, and other parenting publications. Whitney earned a bachelor's degree in Eng...

Published on October 20, 2021

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Whitney SandovalRead Full Bio

Contributing Writer

Whitney Sandoval is a writer and educator who is passionate about accessibility, inclusion, and equity in education. Her work has also appeared in Healthline, What to Expect, and other parenting publications. Whitney earned a bachelor's degree in Eng...

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Sarah Holliday, MS, GCDFRead Full Bio

Published on October 20, 2021

Learn more about our editorial process

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  • Continuing education can increase your knowledge and skills and may benefit your career.
  • Continuing education opportunities come in various forms, such as online and self-paced options.
  • Conferences, workshops, and college courses provide avenues to broaden your skills.
  • Many careers and licenses maintain specific continuing education requirements.

Did you know the average baby boomer born between 1957 and 1964 has worked an average of more than 12 jobs?

These days it's rare for workers to stick with just one role or field. Whether you are interested in changing careers or need to complete ongoing or additional training for your job, continuing education can play an important role in your professional success.

Typically geared toward adult learners, continuing education is available in a variety of forms, including self-paced learning and postsecondary courses.

Not all types of continuing education, however, will fulfill employment and licensure requirements. Check with your employer or licensing board to see which experiences qualify for your specific situation.

Why Is Continuing Education Important?

Continuing education allows you to be a lifelong learner. Many people seek ongoing training opportunities and new knowledge for their own pleasure; however, there may be career benefits as well. Continuing education could help you change careers or earn more money. It may also be necessary to maintain your position.

Many careers, such as teaching, have pay scales. Completing additional hours of continuing education can help bump an educator into a higher compensation range. Other employers also may offer salary increases to those who complete specialized certificates or training.

Teachers — and other professionals like mechanics, HVAC technicians, and nurses — are required to complete continuing education to keep their licenses. Continuing education can help professionals stay up to date with current trends and theories in their fields.

What Are Some Examples of Continuing Education?

Continuing education comes in various forms and requires different levels of commitment. Read on to discover some common continuing education opportunities. Keep in mind that other types of continuing education also exist.

  • Postsecondary Degree Programs: Whether you are seeking a new undergraduate degree, attending graduate school, or going back to school to finish a degree, postsecondary degree programs are a common way to pursue continuing education.
  • Professional Certification: Several organizations offer professional certifications. These credentials can cover everything from specific software to role-specific opportunities. Employees can deepen their knowledge in specialized fields and qualify for high-demand jobs.
  • Professional Events and Programs: Attending professional events and programs, like annual conferences and summits, can keep you informed on current trends. These experiences can also provide networking opportunities.
  • Professional License Renewal Programs: If you are in a licensed position, you'll likely need continuing education to renew your professional license. Each state and specific career has detailed requirements for license renewal.
  • Continuing Education Courses: These courses are offered by educational providers to people enrolled in non-credit-awarding classes. They can provide training on a specific subject or skill set and typically end with a certificate of completion.
  • College Courses: Many universities and community colleges allow you to enroll in and complete individual college courses. Opportunities can be found for in-person and online study.
  • Self-Paced Online Courses: Several organizations and colleges offer self-paced online courses, many of which are free. Unlike traditional college courses, self-paced classes do not have due dates beyond the course start and end dates.
  • Workshops and Seminars: Workshops and seminars may provide hands-on opportunities for smaller groups to come together and learn or practice a new skill. Typically, an expert in the field will lead the group.

What Is a Continuing Education Course?

There are several types of continuing education courses available to learners, especially for those seeking online options. Courses may be offered by colleges and universities or through organizations and companies.

Each course is designed to hone your skills in a specific area. Some continuing education courses are based on job skills, such as working with a specific piece of software. Other courses may be geared toward deepening an understanding of concepts, like learning more about personal well-being.

Some continuing education courses cost money, but you can also find several free courses. Depending on the course, you may earn a continuing education certificate upon completion.

Standalone courses can expand your knowledge on specific concepts. They also can allow you to pursue areas of interest — even ones unrelated to your profession.

What Are Continuing Education Units?

For careers that require professional certifications or licenses, you typically must complete a certain number of continuing education units (CEUs) to renew them. CEUs, sometimes referred to as continuing education credits, help ensure employees are up to date on best practices and procedures.

Different professions have specific requirements related to the number of CEUs needed to maintain your licensure status, the length of your renewal period, and which continuing education experiences are approved for your role.

Which Jobs Require Continuing Education?

Careers that need a license to practice typically require continuing education, either to advance in the field or maintain an active professional license. Below are five popular career areas that require continuing education.

  • Law Careers

    Continuing legal education is required for attorneys to maintain compliance with the American Bar Association. Tax attorneys, for instance, may need to take classes on trusts or 401(k) management updates.

  • Teaching Careers

    Educators are required to complete continuing education to stay up to date on educational trends and the latest teaching technologies. Special education teachers, for example, may need training on changes to special education laws and procedures.

  • Accounting Careers

    The rules and regulations on finances frequently change. Accountants need continuing education to fulfill licensure requirements. For example, a tax accountant may meet these requirements by taking courses on new tax laws.

  • Nursing Careers

    Continuing education is required for nurses and many other healthcare workers. Nurses can boost their knowledge and expertise in specialized areas of healthcare like pediatrics or hospice care.

  • Psychology Careers

    Mental health professionals take advantage of continuing education to learn about new research and findings in the psychology field. Therapists may take courses in specialized areas, like addiction or trauma, to deepen their understanding.

Do FAFSA Funds Cover Continuing Education?

Depending on the type of continuing education, you may be able to use financial aid to help cover the cost of your courses. Students who fill out the FAFSA can determine their eligibility for federal assistance. These funds help those who demonstrate a certain level of financial need based on their income level and other factors.

A financial aid package may include federal student loans, as well as grants and scholarships. Along with college courses, FAFSA funds may be used to help pay for approved certificate programs and professional certifications depending on the field of study.

You can also seek out private scholarships and loans to help cover continuing education costs. Keep in mind, however, that you should always take advantage of scholarships and grants before taking out loans — unlike loans, scholarships and grants do not need to be repaid.

Several scholarships for adults and nontraditional learners are available.

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