Continuing education programs are integral components of postsecondary institutions and the communities they serve. Often included as pan of the continuing education programs are extension programs. As legislators and community leaders review funding mechanisms and sources of revenue generation, continuing and extension programs can begin to implement programming and tracking software to determine how they can function in an entrepreneurial manner and demonstrate their economic impact on the communities, both internal and external, they serve.
Oklahoma State University's (OSU) Office of Education Extension provides numerous adult education programs as the continuing education arm of the College of Education (COE). These programs demand that the office functions in an entrepreneurial manner both externally and internally. These programs are designed to serve both national and statewide educators' needs. The underlying motivating factor is to create programs that are financially successful, and this sometimes creates a challenge. In order for Education Extension to measure the financial success and economic impact of the adult education programs they provide, it was necessary to develop an instrument, collect data, and analyze the data to measure the impact of these programs.
Continuing educators dealing with adults need to articulate better and demonstrate the social value of the programs they provide (Walshok, 2001). One way to demonstrate a program's social value is to quantifiably measure the programs economic impact on the organization and the local community where the program takes place. These quantifiable measures were recently documented during the summer of 2000 when Education Extension contracted with the Oklahoma Education Association to host its conference on OSU's campus. The conference hosted 218 teachers and the COE and the College of Agriculture Sciences and Natural Resources (CASNR) collaborated to document the question put forth by the Stillwater Chamber of Commerce about the economic impact of similar conferences on Stillwater's economy. The first order was to identify exactly what an economic impact study is, and then determine an appropriate methodology for data collection and analysis.
As continuing educators respond to the needs of their constituents by providing lifelong learning opportunities, they need to be cognizant of several principles as pointed out by Walshok (1995) in Knowledge without Boundaries. This publication emphasizes that the most important service continuing educators can provide is to connect knowledge to regional economic development needs that are being shaped by rapid changes in technology, demography, and globalization. This principle reinforces the necessity of continuing educators to provide economic impact assessments for each of the programs they provide to justify the time, effort, and finances they have invested into the program.
The representative sample of teachers that attended the conference accurately reflects the population of the state of Oklahoma. Teachers who attended the conference came from urban, suburban, and rural areas of the state. Knowles (1972) tells us adult educators need the ability to locate the most relevant and reliable sources of data and must have the ability to select and use the most efficient means for collecting the required data, so as to give valid answers, and also the ability to generalize, apply, and communicate the answers to the questions raised (p. 163). Therefore, collecting the data at the conference was reliable, relevant and efficient, and the teachers were an appropriate source from which to gather the data.
Defining Economic Impact
An economic impact study attempts to place a dollar value on a particular event, business, or sector of an economy. Impacts occur when any kind of change to the local economy takes place. One person moving into a community has an impact, albeit probably a small one, on the economy. …