University continuing education refers to various activities through which universities provide educational programs and services to those not enrolled in traditional on-campus study. Virtually every major university in North America has a continuing education unit, responsible for organizing initiatives such as non-credit courses, certificate programs, distance education programs, customized training, outreach activities, and degree-credit classes in the evenings, off-campus, or during spring and summer terms. University continuing education in North America is a major activity, with hundreds of thousands of students engaged in continuing studies each year.

In Canada, the Canadian Association for University Continuing Education represents nearly fifty universities having significant continuing education activities. CAUCE members typically endeavour to meet the needs or goals of learners seeking professional development, personal enrichment, or the furthering of knowledge and skills. They deliver programs and services that promote lifelong learning by adults, whether as individuals or as members of communities and organizations. These programs and services enable access to quality education in flexible and innovative ways. The work of continuing education links universities with communities, and with external agencies such as businesses, governments, and professional associations.

The following paragraphs identify some of the benefits of university continuing education in Canada.

Strengthening individuals and communities

Universities provide high-quality lifelong learning opportunities that help people develop the full range of their human potential: their knowledge, their skills, their self-awareness, and their understanding of others. When people take adult and continuing education courses, they become better able to contribute to the families, organizations, and communities in which they live and work. In this way, university continuing education strengthens the economic, cultural, and social fabric of the community.

Strengthening universities

Continuing education programs contribute to the core scholarly mission of universities. Universities are institutions dedicated to discovering, integrating, teaching, and applying knowledge. While continuing education units in Canada are typically not involved in the scholarship of discovery and research, such units are very active in the integration of knowledge by instructors, the teaching of knowledge to students, and the application of knowledge by students in their personal and professional lives. In addition to this core scholarly contribution, continuing education strengthens universities by fostering positive public relations, leveraging financial resources from non-traditional sources, and delivering high-profile services to the community.

Broadening access to education and learning

In Canada, universities do not have the capacity to serve all of the capable people who would like to further their education. The continuing education efforts of Canadian universities are an important means of extending access to education and to post-secondary credentials, to people who would otherwise not have such access. Distance education, open admissions policies, and programs designed for part-time learners are common means through which such access is promoted.

Building profitable businesses and good jobs

For many years now, international organizations, governments, and educational institutions have been saying that lifelong learning is the key to success for countries, businesses, and individuals. Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, is well-known for saying: "Education is the best economic policy we have." University continuing education helps individuals perform better in their jobs, helps businesses achieve better results, and ultimately helps countries become better places to live and work.

Engaging our citizens and institutions with issues that matter

University continuing education provides adult learners with the opportunity to explore and discuss key issues facing our communities and our world today. For example, at the University of Calgary, we offer continuing education courses focused on the environment, health and safety, religious and cultural studies, and conflict resolution. Further, through offering courses in over a dozen languages, we enable adult learners to broaden their ability to travel and to better understand events taking place around the world.