Graduate and professional enrollment has seen its most dramatic growth in students attending full-time. Between 1985-86 and 2015-16 the number of full-time graduate and professional students will have more than doubled, and in 2015-16 will represent 57% of those enrolled at this level.

Source: “The Higher Education Landscape 2007″ CollegeBoard.com

This statistic from the College Board, an association of educational organizations, points to a continuing trend in this country. As a population, we are increasingly educated. And we place a high value on what used to be called continuing education, but is now more aptly termed “life-long learning.” This is true not only within our profession, but from the perspective of our clients. Because they are also more educated, they expect their advisors to develop and maintain true expertise.

Full Circle

When continuing education was first introduced to the financial and insurance profession, it was informal and wholly voluntary. As you might expect, at that time quality was the primary consideration. Members of the profession sought continuing education to keep abreast of new developments, better serve their clients, and differentiate themselves from their competition.

Over time, credentials and licenses were developed that required their holders to obtain a certain number of continuing education credits each year. In response, a variety of sources sought to fulfill the growing need for what had become known as Continuing Education, or CE, including professional organizations like the Society of Financial Service Professionals (FSP).

CE became a way to keep abreast of legislative and regulatory changes, new product development and implementation techniques. In addition – not surprisingly in our litigious society – many CE programs were, and continue to be, focused on helping practitioners meet ethical challenges and comply with regulatory requirements. This is important as laws like the Age Discrimination Equalization Act (ADEA) and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) are enacted, which impact conduct and restrict how we communicate with our clients.

But as CE became mandatory, it also became more formalized, more rigid, and ultimately, more commoditized. Quantity — in the form of the most credits for the least amount of money — became the hallmark of commercially available CE.

Today, we’re seeing this trend come full circle, perhaps in part as a result of the wide-spread social phenomenon that has led to recognition of professionals as people. We’re no longer expected to be automatons who march around doing something to earn money during weekdays, and we don’t expect our clients, colleagues, or staff members to behave that way either. This recognition has spawned such trends as “business casual” and workplaces where every one is on first name basis.

Becoming a Perpetual Student

No matter how casual things get, our clients expect their advisors to be experts, plain and simple. They rely on our expertise to help them meet very personal goals, whether for their businesses or their families and trust us to handle complex issues on their behalf.

I firmly believe that being the expert my clients deserve requires me to be a perpetual student. I need to continually increase my knowledge — and have my beliefs challenged — in order to stay current and provide my clients with the best advice and service I can provide.

When I got started in this business, there was no question about whether I was going to get my CLU designation. It was just expected. So I did what was expected of me and got that credential. But in the process, I learned that I had a thirst for knowledge. And that learning took many forms. Today I find that in addition to traditional CE, I get a great deal of insight from my peers as we help each other to find the best practical applications of the technical knowledge we’ve gained.

Value – With or Without CE

Sophisticated practitioners in any field understand the concept of life-long learning. Even someone as successful as Bill Gates makes a practice of devoting two weeks out of the year to studying new technology, according to a profile in Business 2.0. In our profession, the trend toward life-long learning has lead to a wide variety of professional development efforts with a focus on educational value, with or without CE credits.

A broader range of topics — so called soft issues” and technical topics that typically qualify as CE — are in increasing demand. As a result, we’re seeing a rise in education that is not driven by product or technique, but rather by the need for information that helps us to be more effective leaders, advisors, colleagues and peers.

Members of FSP and other organizations respond to educational programs by the value they provide, with or without CE. Sometimes they feel that a particular program should have qualified for CE, but that’s not the reason they give for attending. The focus is on “value to my practice” not number of credits available.

In response to this burgeoning trend, FSP’s 2007 Financial Service Forum, scheduled for September 27-29 in Montreal, will feature both the technical and the practical. These sessions are designed to provide the broadest range of value possible to well-rounded, sophisticated and successful financial service professionals.

Richard H. Linsday, CLU, ChFC, AEP is the principal of Planned Estate Services in Westlake Village, Calif., and is affiliated with MetLife Financial Services as a Senior Financial Advisor. He is also the 2006-2007 president of the Society of Financial Service Professionals. You may e-mail Richard at .