What’s an Extension Program?

Everything you need to know about extension programs, from where to find them to what they teach.


Most often, extension programs offer a series of courses similar to that of a traditional college student’s major.

When it comes to adult education, there are a ton of options.. Should you enroll in a community college and work towards an associate’s degree? Or is it better to join a workforce-training program that will teach you industry-specific skills? Or maybe an extension program is right for you?

Extension programs aren’t just another form of adult education. These programs have a lot to offer students of all ages, and are dedicated to bettering their communities. We’ve put together an overview of what makes extension programs unique – from what a typical student is like to the information they cover.

What’s an extension program?

An extension program is a department within a college that offers classes to local residents interested in learning new skills or information. Extension programs were designed to educate entire communities. Unlike four-year universities and colleges, and community colleges, extension programs aren’t completed for credit. Individuals who enroll in this kind of program take classes purely to advance their knowledge in a subject. Because extension programs don’t grant degrees of any kind, classes are informal and flexible.

Who are these programs for?

Anyone, no matter his or her age or education level, can take part in an extension program. Though classes are taught at a college level, there are no enrollment requirements. Whether you’re a grandparent or a Ph.D. student, there are many extension programs that can meet your needs.

What makes extension programs different from other adult programs?

Many adult education programs focus on students who have not received any education or degrees beyond high school. These adults-only programs aim to teach working adults skills that both further their general knowledge and assist them in their job. Additionally, those who enter adult education programs often earn their GED. Extension programs, on the other hand, exist to educate all individuals no matter their education level or goals.

What kinds of extension programs exist?

Workforce training is a great example of an extension program. Throughout the country, workforce training programs offer working adults the chance to learn new technology and keep up-to-date on new information regarding their career field. Whether students are employees at a software company, or are simply volunteers at a nonprofit, this job-related curriculum updates workers’ certifications and experience. At Lewis-Clark State College, employees from any industry can take classes and further their knowledge in any subject they wish. Many companies even pay for their employees to take workforce training.

Most often, extension programs offer a series of courses similar to that of a traditional college student’s major. For example, University of California, San Diego has a unique extension program available to students purely interested in creative writing. Not only do student hone their writing skills and think creatively, but they also learn how to enter the publishing world and apply for jobs. The program also offers workshops targeting novel writers and poets. Students can even take classes anywhere that’s convenient for them — as long as they have a group of 14 fellow interested learners.

Are extension programs any different from continuing education courses?

Extension programs are very similar to continuing education programs, and are often lumped into the same category. However, the two aren’t always the same. Continuing education is designed for adults who are seeking additional certifications or licenses, while extension program students don’t typically receive any kind of documentation. Some professions, particularly those in the health and dental fields, require employees to take continuing education courses in order to stay current on new technology and research. If you’re interested in certification or degree programs, an extension program isn’t for you — a continuing education program will better suit your needs.

Quick Tips

  • Extension programs aren’t always complete in a classroom. Some programs offer online classes, or even video classes where students can watch lectures in their own home.
  • The kinds of classes offered in extension programs are varied and unique. For example, University of California, Los Angeles' Extension Program offers a Sneak Preview class, in which students study upcoming, unreleased films.

People Who Read This Article Also Read:

15 Certificates You Can Earn Online
How to Use Continuing Education to Advance Your Career
Types of Education Certificate Programs
Students Flock to Master's Degrees in Emerging Fields
Keeping Your Certificate Training Up To Date

See All Back to School Guide for Adult Students Articles

Quick Search: Find the College that's Right for You!



Visit Our Student Center

Get on track!

Visit our Student Center

And find out everything you need to know about planning for college.