Tuesday, April 15, 2014

NABCA Conference for 2014

I attended the annual conference of the National Association of Branch Campus Administrators (NABCA) last week, and it was a great time.  The program was strong, but as usual a lot of the value in attending was the opportunity to network with people committed to the branch mission of providing access to higher education.

I presented a session, titled “Get Strategic to Compete:  New Directions for Branch Campuses” which turned out to be a lot of fun.  The audience was engaged and participated enthusiastically, which in turn gave me all the more energy for my topic.  In a later post I’ll share more about some of the new directions I’ve observed.

My book, Out on a Limb:  A Branch Campus Life was available for purchase at the conference, and I was pleased to have 34 copies picked up.  I also noticed an uptick in purchases of both print and Kindle versions on Amazon, so maybe word is getting around.  I’m not aware of any comparable book that is relatively comprehensive on the branch campus topic, but it is difficult to promote it in the absence of any sort of broad database covering branches.

In fact, I found sessions tied to members of the NABCA research committee to be especially interesting.  That committee has come a long ways over the last several years, and I noted enthusiasm for further steps.  The challenge simply to identify branch campuses and their characteristics is enormous. 

As one who has been around for most of NABCA’s existence, I felt real pride in the work of the current leadership.  I wish the original founders could have attended this year.  Their vision seems to have reached a tipping point, and the organization is definitely on a roll.  NABCA seeks to be a national, broad-based organization in support of branch campuses, and I was struck by the diversity of campus missions represented on the program, including both public and private institutions and growing participation from community colleges.

For years we hoped to establish a position of executive director to provide consistent leadership and better organization, and joyce gilley gossum is making a huge difference in that role.  My congratulations to joyce and to the members of the executive committee who hired her.  Susan Cooper, dean at California State University, Fullerton—Irvine Campus has been president for this past year, and her campus also hosted the conference:  Great job!  Leigh Atkinson, from Ohio University, was conference chair, and Allison Fitzpatrick, from Brookdale Community College was co-chair.  They and their committee had everything well organized, and if there were any glitches, I didn’t notice them.

If you see this post, then by all means track down NABCA.  You can become a member, “friend” NABCA on Facebook, and join their LinkedIn group.  Check out www.nabca.net and keep returning, because things are moving ahead quickly.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Comments Regarding "Out on a Limb: A Branch Campus Life"

Early feedback on my book, Out on a Limb:  A Branch Campus Life, has been gratifying.  I’m pleased that people find it an interesting read, but even happier when they find helpful information or ideas.  There are so few resources for people working on branches that I hope my contribution might provide some support or encouragement.

A few friends have asked about my intended audience, and that’s a good question.  Although I’d like to think that lots of people might find Out on a Limb interesting, the specific reader I kept in mind as I wrote was a campus chief administrator (dean, director, or whatever the title).  In particular, I was thinking about an individual who recently landed on a branch campus without having an extensive branch background.  I know from meeting people at NABCA and RBCA meetings that one can feel a little lost and alone out on that limb, and so I wanted to extend a helping hand.

Secondarily, I also was thinking about a main campus administrator who has branches reporting to him or her and wants some help in thinking through the branch mission, opportunities and challenges.  I’ve met a number of individuals, from presidents on down, who have more or less inherited branch responsibility, and they may quickly begin to realize that working with branches is different than anything they’ve done before.

More broadly, I think the book will be of particular interest to administrators and other professional staff.  Faculty members may or may not be interested in most of the topics covered, although I personally believe the more anyone understands about how branches grow or decline, the better they will be able to contribute to the success of their own campus and to design a satisfying professional career.

I’ve also been asked about my decision to approach the book more or less as a memoir.  Frankly, that decision was the most difficult planning choice that I made.  It was driven partly by the lack of research or other sources that could have supported the broad presentation that I wanted, but also by my desire to present something of a branch campus story, rather than necessarily a work of scholarship.  Eventually, the book concept fell in place for me, when I organized chapters to follow my career trajectory.  Thus, my decisions about audience and to use what I call a “quasi-memoir” approach were conscious decisions on my part that gave the project its focus and structure.

Just as a reminder, Out on a Limb:  A Branch Campus Life is available through Amazon, in either a print or Kindle version.  Tell your friends and colleagues! 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Out on a Limb: A Branch Campus Life

I’m pleased to announce publication of my new book, Out on a Limb:  A Branch Campus Life.  It has been a long time coming, but it is now available on Amazon, in both a print (paperback) version and a Kindle e-book version.  You can find it at http://www.amazon.com/Out-Limb-Branch-Campus-Life-ebook/dp/B00J274TLS/ref=sr_1_15?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1395098891&sr=1-15&keywords=Charles+Bird (Kindle version) or http://www.amazon.com/Out-Limb-Branch-Campus-Life/dp/0991498208/ref=sr_1_11?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1395099416&sr=1-11&keywords=Charles+Bird (Print version).

Chapter topics are:

1.     A Partial Memoir
2.     Characteristics of a Branch Campus
3.     Politics, Purpose, and Practice
4.     Students
5.     Branch Campus Faculty Members
6.     Branch Campus Support Staff
7.     Agendas and Stakeholders
8.     Financing and Managing Budgets on Branch Campuses
9.     Lessons Learned:  Leadership on and in Support of Branch Campuses
10.  Future Challenges and Opportunities

Writing for my blogs, especially Branch Campus Life, definitely helped organize my thoughts and ideas around branch campuses, but I drew directly from previous material on only a few occasions.  No doubt, the book was enhanced by the many opportunities I’ve had to visit institutions around the United States and, in a few cases, in other countries.  Each campus has its own story to tell, yet there are relatively consistent themes that I encounter everywhere I go.

My goal with the book was to tell a story.  Because there is so little research on branch campuses, I drew heavily on my own experience, and I make no claim that Out on a Limb is a work of scholarship.  On the other hand, I’d be pleased if it led others to look thoughtfully and creatively at some of the issues I raise. 

Toward the end of the book I became more direct about what I believe to be critical for branches to succeed in the future.  These campuses are an important resource for students and for institutions, but if people don’t understand the unique nature of branch campuses and the keys to their success in a highly competitive environment, then opportunities are likely to be lost.

As I wrote, I especially had branch chief administrators in mind.  Leading a branch campus is a challenging role, but it also can be immensely rewarding and can open the door to higher education for people who otherwise would be pushed to an online environment for which they are not prepared, or forced to turn away from their dreams.  Branches change lives in myriad ways.  If you work on a branch campus you should be grateful for the opportunity and proud of the difference you make.

I hope readers will find Out on a Limb:  A Branch Campus Life interesting and helpful.  If you know people who might enjoy reading the book, I hope you will let them know it is available.  As always, I’m also interested in opportunities to provide coaching or consulting services, visit institutions to facilitate a planning conversation, or speak at meetings with an adult learner or nontraditional student theme.

Finally, I want to express my appreciation for the many friends and colleagues I have around the country.  Your support and willingness to share ideas has made a great contribution to my work.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Time for a Break

I think it is time for me to take a more extended break from regular posting to this blog.  I’ve covered a lot of topics over a number of years, and although I will continue to post from time to time if I feel I have something to say, I’m not sure I can add much more value by trying to make monthly or bi-monthly posts.  Of course, all of my previous posts will be available on this site.

My intention with the blog was to provide a resource that might be of use to people who work on branch campuses or who have some main campus oversight responsibility for branches.  Personal feedback over the years has been gratifying, so I think I reached my goal, even if the number of monthly visits was in the hundreds, not the thousands.  The number of international readers was a surprise to me, but very pleasantly so.

At this point, I am more interested in working with individuals or with institutions in a more personal way.  I enjoy my work as a consultant, and I am a certified professional coach, which supports working with individuals or leadership teams as they look to the future. On a few occasions I’ve been employed by an institution to participate in a one-time discussion about their branch organizational structure or their strategies to encourage enrollment growth.  On other occasions I developed and facilitated planning workshops to engage various stakeholders in a conversation about the future of branch campuses.

As a coach, I’ve worked with individuals who find themselves in a new leadership role, in which having a coach (a “trusted advisor”) outside of the home institution can be helpful.  I’ve also worked with younger administrators who have been identified as having potential for advancement, but may benefit from coaching around strengths-based leadership, building a strong team, or the development of negotiation skills.

I want to mention here that another reason my posting has been less frequent is that I am completing a book on branch campuses.  The book is tentatively titled Out on a Limb:  A Branch Campus Life, and it should be out in the spring in both electronic and print versions.  I will announce its publication here, and I hope readers of my blog consider buying a copy.  Better yet, if you are in a branch campus leadership position, buy enough copies for everyone on your staff and invite me for a teleconference or a visit!

I enjoy sharing ideas and exploring possibilities, and these are increasingly challenging times for many institutions.  Branch campuses have so much to offer, but it is important to get the programing, services, and finances right, to understand marketing and entrepreneurship, and to build the right types of internal and external partnerships.  Please get in touch, if I can be of help.

Watch for that book announcement!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Should Branch Campuses Consider Separate Accreditation?

Over the past year, I’ve spoken with several people whose institutions are considering whether to pursue separate regional accreditation for their branch campuses.  The University of South Florida did that, just a few years ago, but now I wonder if there might be broader interest in the idea.

In the past, I’ve made a strong distinction between multi-campus institutions, such as the University of North Carolina, where campuses have a relatively high level of autonomy, and institutions with a main campus and branches.  Shared accreditation and curriculum oversight from the main campus are almost part of defining what it is to be a “branch.”  (See my previous posts on branch characteristics; the blog is searchable.)

Nevertheless, I can understand why separate accreditation for branches might be attractive.  As branch campuses become more deeply engaged in their communities and mature as institutions in their own right, they need to provide those courses and programs that students seek.  Separate accreditation might provide relief from arbitrary, unreasonable interference from main campus departments. 

In addition, the most attractive programs on branch campuses are likely to be in business, health care, and education.  In other words, programs that often are accredited at the program level, as well as falling under the broader umbrella of the institution’s regional accreditation.

In many cases, the requirements of program accreditors apply on all campuses, and at times they may be difficult to achieve on branch campuses.  For example, if your business program is AACSB accredited, your branches should meet the same requirements for faculty credentials as your main campus.  If that means hiring faculty with Ph.D.’s in business, it can be very expensive, provided you can even recruit qualified individuals.  Other AACSB limits placed on teaching loads may make it difficult to work efficiently with main campus faculty members, as well.

A third consideration is that more institutions seem to be developing unique programs on their branches.  I don’t believe unique programs necessarily require separate regional accreditation—it certainly didn’t at Ohio University—but maybe there are some advantages to giving campuses more freedom to develop curriculum, without undue interference from the main campus’s process.  I can imagine this being especially true if the branch is in a clearly distinct service environment.

I still believe that branches gain more than they lose by being an integral part of their home institution.  The “brand” supports marketing and recruitment, a single curriculum helps assure quality, and most institutions award the same diploma to students, regardless of which campus they attended.  Much is at stake in a world with heightened competition, and many students care more about program, flexibility and cost than they care about brand.  Leaders should take care about seeking separate regional accreditation, but maybe it isn’t the non-starter that I thought it was.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Where are the Tipping Points?

If you don’t know much about branch campuses, you could be forgiven for thinking that the only innovation in higher education is happening through MOOCs (massive open online courses) or the creation of branch campuses in Asia and the Middle East.  It’s not nearly that simple.

MOOCs will continue to evolve in interesting directions, including the direction of awarding academic credit for course completion and offering badges or certificates for completing a set of related courses.  I find international branches much less interesting, because I think other countries will develop their own programs, over time, and invite American institutions to go home.

More importantly, however, there is much, much more going on than MOOCs and international branches.  The range of online and hybrid/blended programs is astonishing, and no one knows which approaches will prove to be most attractive.  For sure, however, we know that online enrollment continues to grow faster than other categories, and my personal sense is that, when all is said and done, the cost of enrollment in online courses is likely to be much less than the cost to attend a physical campus.  In fact, it won’t surprise me if the price of online general education courses falls to near zero, which would create a budget nightmare for a lot of institutions.

There also are complicating conditions that have all sorts of implications.  The 18-year-old population is declining, which is a negative for traditional enrollment, and that knowledge led many institutions to work harder to attract adult learners.  But, then, this fall there was a nation-wide decline in enrollment of approximately 500,000 students, and about 80% of those were adult learners.  Distinguishing between macro and micro trends isn’t easy!

Moreover, although lots of people worry about the way tuition has increased faster than almost anything else, the implication is subject to debate.  Certainly, the trend for athletic spending and spending on student “amenities” continues to grow, and many institutions continue to take on debt that I believe will become a heavy anchor if competitors begin dropping prices.

In the private non-profit world, a small but growing number of institutions are choosing to dramatically cut their so-called “sticker price,” instead of stating a high price, presumably to demonstrate quality, then discounting that price by 40% or more.  The effectiveness of deep tuition cuts vs. the risk of maintaining the higher rates is yet to be determined.

Finally, there are those pesky accreditors, legislators, and both state and federal bureaucrats.  To me, they represent wild cards that can distort, slow, or speed up change, but they are unlikely to determine the ultimate outcome.  Employers, another important stakeholder, could have significant impact, but I’m not convinced that people in business have any clearer idea of what they really want than do governors and legislators.  All of them would do well to take a refresher course on the difference between causation and correlation.

Remember, tipping points only become apparent after the fact, and in a disruptive environment, risk is high for everyone.  Pay attention!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Getting Strategic With Branch Campuses

How strategic is your institution in considering the role of its satellite operations?  Based on my experience, I’d guess that the answer for most is “not very.”  (I'm not addressing the recent trend of some institutions opening overseas branches, which I assume involve more strategic considerations.)

Typically, branch campuses and other outreach programs were created to serve some relatively specific purpose:  To block expansion of another institution, to respond to political pressure, or (most commonly) to pick up additional revenue.  In that context, branches have much in common with main campus programs for adult learners, as well as those sorts of online programs that represent a cautious exploration, rather than a major strategic commitment.  And none of these efforts has been approached strategically at the highest levels of leadership, at least at most institutions.

Given the relatively radical experiments that we’ve seen in the past few years, it is easy to imagine that cash-strapped institutions might prefer to focus on scalable online programs, investing in course design and student support, rather than considering growth at branch campuses.  Indeed, at first glance, main campus academic units might imagine that online programs will do more for their budgets, depending on how revenue is shared and expenses recognized.  It’s that phenomenon of being drawn to bright shiny objects:  The new stuff seems sexier than empowering growth on the branches.

As I’ve written many times before, the development of branch campuses reflected the technology of the time.  Branches provided a space for faculty members to teach, advisors to offer advice, and so on.  Interactive television brought an additional element of cost effective outreach, but branches remained a relatively straightforward extension of what happens on the main campus, and generally, institutional leaders didn’t expect them to grow all that much.

Today, a comprehensive enrollment strategy might well include new recruitment and retention strategies at the main campus, as well as the selective pursuit of online enrollment from students located almost anywhere in the world.  Nevertheless, I think most institutions will find that branches still bring certain advantages that should be developed, not marginalized.

At least at present, there is a strong argument to be made that blended or hybrid programs are more appealing and tend to produce stronger learning outcomes than fully online programs.  Note also that, with hybrid delivery, commuter campuses can expand their recruitment radius to 75, or even to 100 miles.

We know that adult learners and other place bound students are concerned about flexibility and price, in addition to getting access to the program they want.  All the pieces for a strong branch strategy are in place:  Pick the right programs, develop focused services and an aggressive marketing plan, and provide a facility that is comfortable and includes state of the art technology.

Given the opportunity, branches can attract more enrollment than ever.  Institutions still can seek growth online and at the main campus, but there is no reason to hand over your potential branch enrollment to more aggressive institutions that recognize the hybrid advantage.