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MADISON, Wis.-It's back to school time, and when credit union professionals and volunteers arrive at the various educational programs this fall they will find the economy's fallout can be seen in changes in the curriculum.

When CU leaders enroll in the graduate and post-graduate programs in management, they are finding risk management, governance, regulatory compliance, and innovation are now at the top of course lists. According to CU educators, these subjects are in demand, and necessary for credit unions to survive and grow. Greater skill is needed around finance, accounting, operations, and even technology, they say.

The Credit Union Executives Society (CUES) didn't waste any time making educational program adjustments once the recession hit and financial trouble within the CU community began to surface, explained Christopher Stevenson, director of program development. "We saw what was happening in the industry. From the time when things started to crumble in the overall financial market, CUES recognized the need for stronger governance at credit unions. So we started to put in place programs to address that."

CUES created the Center for Credit Union Board Excellence (CCUBE), a school based in Madison that makes its board education programs less costly and more accessible for directors. CUES already had its DLI Governance program at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. "But that program has a higher price point and people have to hop on a plane and travel to Canada," Stevenson noted.

CCUBE offers on-site education, but a great deal of learning can be handled remotely. The school focuses on "seven tiers of governance"-advocacy, governance, strategy, CEO relations, committees, finance, and risk management.

The greatest demand from students, especially those within professional CU management, is for enterprise risk management, according to sources who spoke with Credit Union Journal. Stevenson noted that CUES, for instance, has introduced a School of Risk Management. "We launched it last year and had good response and decent attendance," Stevenson said. "This year we expanded the program from two offerings to four and attendance has far exceeded our expectations."


Business As Usual Won't Cut It

Janine McBee, senior training director at the Southwest CUNA Management School in Dallas, said one of the most critical changes occurring in credit union education programs is that leaders are being taught that business as usual will not carry credit unions through the next decade. "We need to look much more closely at innovation, and we need to look at competitors beyond those in our local markets. We have to keep our eyes on what's going on in financial services, period. That means the banks, Walmart ..."

That evolution is being reflected in Southwest CUNA Management School's programming, and a course day is now dedicated to innovation through the direction of the Filene Research Institute. "We do idea camps," McBee said. "No agendas, time frames, and no formal speakers. Parties come together to decide what they want to talk about."

James Likens, president and dean of Western CUNA Management School and professor of economics at Pomona College in Ontario, Calif., emphasized that courses at what may be the best known of the credit union management education programs is always updated to reflect the current economic environment. That, in part, has led to a greater emphasis on working with the regulators. "We offer a panel discussion that features three credit union CEOs. They all have a great deal of experience working with regulators, and have faced some very challenging times, themselves."

Likens added that another panel session, called Managing in an Era of Hyperchange, has been added, and it does address challenges within the corporate system. However, educators agreed that while the corporate system is touched on at some point during some courses, it is not a single focus of any class.


There's No Such Thing As Average

A key point the Western CUNA Management School makes to students-and Likens does so, himself-is that education cannot be aimed at the "average credit union." Likens emphasized that for a school to be effective, it must provide students with the skills and teachings they need so they can effectively examine their own situations and take appropriate steps.

"We talk about how we are not all alike," Likens said. "A little joke I tell students to emphasize that point is that Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps and I average seven god medals-he has 14 and I have none. It's important to not just to look at the average for credit unions but at the situation taking place within each CU."

It's not just educational programming that has evolved, so have students, educators pointed out. The average age of students has lowered as turnover within the industry occurs, and as credit union employees at lower levels within the organization seek to enhance their own skills as jobs get tougher to come by due to both the recession and the shrinking number of credit unions in existence in the U.S.

According to Likens, the biggest change in the student makeup over the years is their skill. "Over time, the background and the competence of students have increased. Credit unions have been adapting to a changing world, and this adaptation includes stronger people."

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