Why is Georgia Tech exploring a new academic unit?

As a public research university, we have a growing responsibility and opportunity to serve all kinds of learners and to support the state with a diverse, knowledgeable, and prepared workforce. Georgia Tech’s strategic plan calls for investment in lifetime education, particularly as it relates to one of our focus areas: expanding access.

Georgia Tech has more than 100 years of non-degree education experience, more than 45 years of distance learning experience, and more than 30 years of K-12 research and outreach at-scale experience. With our experience and resources, we aim to lead the national conversation on the continuing evolution of higher education and its role in supporting the needs of the future. The proposed new academic unit builds on the foundation of Georgia Tech’s ecosystem for lifetime learning, including the Center for 21st Century Universities (C21U), the Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing (CEISMC), and Georgia Tech Professional Education (GTPE).

The fundamental purpose of the new unit is to combine the traditional activities of a college, such as research and instruction, with innovative, learner-focused services that make learning accessible, affordable, and achievable for learners of all ages.


What do each of the three units contribute to the vision for the new academic unit?

Each of the units holds expertise in a particular area of the lifetime learning spectrum and serve as leaders across the Institute supporting learners in every phase of their life, from kindergarten through retirement.

  • C21U’s researchers and technologists support Georgia Tech’s mission by pushing the boundaries of what is already done in higher education to bring to our learners the most innovative technologies and resources. Much of C21U’s research has existed in spaces not being pursued otherwise, interfacing with industry and the workforce to explore innovations in how we teach and learn. Researchers and technologists support Georgia Tech’s mission of impactful innovation by pushing the boundaries of what is already done in higher education to bring to our learners the most innovative technologies and resources. Much of C21U’s research has existed in spaces not being pursued otherwise, interfacing with industry and the workforce to explore innovations in how we teach and learn.
  • CEISMC is the primary connection point between Georgia Tech faculty and students and the preK-12 STEM/STEAM education community. It offers transformative student enrichment that maximizes all students’ potential, intensive problem-based teacher professional development, school-community partnerships for workforce development and student success, innovative curricula and systematic research and evaluation to advance evidence-based best practices in STEM and STEAM. EXCEL offers learners with intellectual and developmental disabilities opportunities to experience college and develop skills needed to integrate in today’s workforce.
  • GTPE is the global campus and lifetime learning arm of the Institute and offers programs for working professionals and industry partners in STEM and business worldwide, providing continuing education for more than a century and learning at a distance for more than 45 years.

Bringing them together will coalesce their strategic efforts to create and research new forms of online education, to expand what a university can do and for whom, and to research and create new technologies, policies, and practices for learning.

In the past, the three units, C21U, CEISMC, and GTPE, have collaborated by sharing their staff and expertise in projects that include: pilots of digital credentials for non-credit classes, AI projects, free courses for teacher grants, and high school dual enrollment programs.

Looking into the future, the three units are excited to work together to achieve the common goals of:

  • Motivating and tracking learner engagement with Georgia Tech across one’s lifetime;
  • Looking at how individuals learn, transferring the new knowledge into the next step of life’s journey, and creating programs to help others utilize the new findings;
  • Improving social mobility by giving opportunities to more people at their stage of life, meeting them where they are and in ways that are useful to them;
  • Implementing and evaluating scalable learning delivery mechanisms (e.g., artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual reality, or other techniques that promote collaboration at scale.)
  • Research, implement, and evaluate digital credentials and other ways of documenting learning and skill development.
  • Research and evaluate increasingly personalized and self-paced learning strategies that factor in the learners’ particular prior skills, and current needs to serve broader populations of learners at any stage of life.
  • Prepare in-service teachers to meet the challenges of preparing the future workforce.
  • Offer majors, minors, and credentials in areas such as instructional design, pedagogy, educational programming in formal and informal settings, culturally relevant practice, problem-based learning, and other educational focus areas.

Is there a name for the proposed new academic unit?

The use of Lifetime Learning was created as a placeholder to be used until a formal name was determined. The permanent name is pending all required reviews and approvals will be assessed as part of the planning process.

What has occurred thus far in the creation of the new unit?

The establishment of a new academic unit is a long process. The first steps are to define the structure and facilitate the governance approval process. In 2022, C21U, CEISMC, and GTPE were aligned as the core for the new unit.

The first phase of work was co-chaired by Nelson Baker and Charles Isbell and was supported by three working groups with cross-functional representation from across the Georgia Tech community.

The areas of focus for the working groups were:

Part of the process included working with an external consulting firm to do market research and case study analyses. The results of their work were used by our three working groups, managed by campus stakeholders, to focus on key aspects of a potential new academic unit. Read the report.

Phase 1 ended in spring 2023 with the delivery of a working report that outlines recommendations, including a proposed new college, to President Ángel Cabrera and the Institute executive leadership team. The report was a collaborative effort across all three working groups, including significant contributions from C21U, CEISMC, and GTPE.

The groups recommend that Georgia Tech, through the lens of its technological expertise, build educational opportunities from “K to grey” that are accessible, affordable, transformational, and achievable at all stages of life and career. After further collaboration with the University System of Georgia (USG) and other key stakeholders, the final report will be approved and released.

In the summer of 2023, Phase 2 began with the establishment of the Division of Lifetime Learning and the appointment of Nelson Baker as interim dean. This phase will provide deeper engagement opportunities, more formal governance conversations with faculty leadership and the USG, additional listening sessions with the broader campus community, and detailed implementation planning.

Who will lead the proposed new academic unit?

Nelson Baker will serve as the interim dean and lead the process of creating the new unit, including establishing its leadership team. When the final college is approved and named, there will be a national search for a permanent dean.

How can I get involved?

Members of C21U, CEISMC, and GTPE will have opportunities to participate in different design groups that will provide crucial input during the planning and development process. The first group will be dedicated to guiding the process of forming a collective, unified culture and shared vision toward the future by understanding and leveraging the strengths and purpose of our new unit and identify our values and associated behaviors.

Faculty and staff outside of CEISMC, C21U, and GTPE, as well as other stakeholders can also participate in the process. An expanded series of listening sessions will be established in Fall of 2023, along with other planned opportunities for feedback and engagement. Stay tuned for more details.  

Will there be opportunities for the three units to interact and get to know each other in a non-formal setting?

Yes. The first design group formed in fall 2023 will be dedicated to guiding the process of forming a collective, unified culture and organizational structure to serve the mission and learners of the new division, including learning about, and engaging with each other. Other opportunities will be identified as well.

Since the three foundational units are part of the Division of Lifetime Learning, will the units’ individual identities (such as unit names and related brand management) continue to be used?

While each of the three foundational units, C21U, CEISMC, and GTPE are now formally aligned under the Division of Lifetime Learning, they should continue to go about their day-to-day activities including use of their current branding and organizational identities.

How will the new unit affect educational opportunities for K-12 students? For staff? For alumni? How will the new academic unit address the growth and needs of multi-lingual students and companies?

Many programs within C21U, CEISMC and GTPE already work within the multi-lingual and K-12 space, and those should continue. We anticipate that the development of the proposed new academic unit will eventually lead to the addition of new programs and opportunities, but we are not currently trying to determine what those will be, nor are there plans to eliminate current programming. We expect the growth process to happen organically based on the strategic opportunities in our findings.

How will the proposed new academic unit impact my job as an employee in CEISMC, C21U, or GTPE?

The new academic unit is about growth, not reducing services or resources. Anytime there is organizational change, it’s natural to worry that roles will be combined to increase efficiency or staff might be expected to do more with fewer additional resources. Our intent with this initiative is to bring together expertise in the lifetime learning space and to build upon them to deliver an innovative new academic offering at Georgia Tech.

When will there be an organizational chart developed for the new academic unit?

The Division of Lifetime Learning will keep the current organizational chart. With the appointment of Nelson Baker as interim dean for the Division of Lifetime Learning, Steve Ruffin has taken on an interim role as executive director for GTPE in addition to his role as associate director of academic affairs in GTPE. This aligned titles across the three core organizations, with Lizanne DeStefano, Steve Harmon, and Steve Ruffin leading CEISMC, C21U, and GTPE, respectively.

In spring 2024 through fall 2025, the new college, pending approvals, will launch. This means that the organizational structure will evolve over time through the development of a leadership team, integration of existing C21U, CEISMC, and GTPE employees and other Georgia Tech faculty and staff, and additional faculty and staff hiring, as needed. Changes to the organizational chart will be shared as approved.

How will functions with similar purposes (such as HR, IT, or finance) interact moving forward? Would individuals currently housed in one of the three units expect to move across the units for better alignment?

Each of the three foundational units —C21U, CEISMC, and GTPE— aligned under the Division of Lifetime Learning should continue to go about their day-to-day activities. Opportunities for alignment and engagement will be identified during the planning process. There is no intention to reduce or eliminate staff as part of this initiative, but there are opportunities to learn from each to support anticipated growth.

Will the proposed new academic unit produce research?

The proposed new unit intends to address the multidisciplinary study of lifetime learning, particularly through the lens of our world-class technological expertise. This will include research on topics such as pedagogy andragogy – especially as impacted by technology and data – as well as K-12 and higher education policy and curriculum. The unit will also include a practicing and applied component to teach, test research, and provide learning services.

Are there any new degrees and certificates proposed in connection with the proposed new academic unit?

Not at this time. All current degrees, certificates, and programs will remain in place. Further academic programming, including degree or certificate programs, will be considered as part of the planning process and follow typical academic program approval processes.

Organizations like the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) foster communications between institutions involved in micro-credentialing and other credit and non-credit programs. How might the formulation of this college capi

There will be opportunities to collaborate with stakeholders at all levels, including organizations like UPCEA and our USG counterparts to enhance the possibilities for all types of learners.