Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The 2016 National Association of Branch Campus Administrators Conference

The 19th meeting of the National Association of Branch Campus Administrators (NABCA) was held in Delaware last week, and as usual, it was a fine success.  The meeting was hosted by Wilmington University, with attendance approaching 100 individuals.  Special credit goes to our extraordinary executive director, joyce gilley gossum, as well as to President Faimous Harrison, Conference Chair Rebecca Burton, Vice Chair Ali Crane, and site hosts Melanie Baldwin and Tom Hurd.

The program was excellent, as we’ve come to expect.  In particular, the two keynote addresses were both entertaining and inspiring.  On Thursday, educator Scott Paine spoke on “Where the Story Begins,” and on Friday, we heard from adventurer Matt McFadyen,  “Journey to the End of the Earth.”  Neither speaker was specifically addressing branch campuses or their issues, but they gave us a lot to think about.  Good decisions by the program committee!

I continue to urge branch administrators to learn more about NABCA.  It seems that people only realize the value of associating with branch colleagues after they attend NABCA or the Regional and Branch Campus Administrators conference in June.  NABCA, specifically, provides access to helpful information through its web site,, on Facebook, and through the annual conference.  However, as I’ve said before, the greatest value may be the opportunity to meet and talk with other branch administrators, and almost any attendee will tell you that the conference is highly therapeutic!

Branch campuses represent a unique and critical delivery form of higher education, yet each institution seems to invent its own wheel, instead of taking advantage of those who have gone before.  There are best practices to be learned, and NABCA is a great place to learn them.

Being the senior attendee at NABCA these days, I feel that I should stress once again that the founders of NABCA would be immensely proud of the organization it has become.  In a world where so much seems to be random, NABCA’s founders were quite intentional about their vision for its development.  I was not a founder, but have attended for 16 of the 19 years, having first visited in 2001, I believe.  When I think of the years that I served on the executive committee, including as president, I can say that we knew where we wanted to go, and the recent leadership has taken us farther and faster than I could have imagined.  Well done!

Finally, I want to publicly (to the extent that people read this blog) thank President Harrison and the executive committee for the distinct honor of receiving the Presidential Service Award.  My time in the leadership of NABCA is long past, but it was a special experience to receive this recognition.  Thank you so much!

Once again, please consider visiting the NABCA web site, becoming a member, and attending next year’s conference in Tulsa, OK.  You won’t regret the decision, and you might make some new friends who understand your daily challenges at work.  You’ll find NABCA’s members to be friendly, concerned, helpful, and fun.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Challenges for Branch Campuses

In my last few posts I’ve emphasized the need for branch campus leaders to immerse themselves in data, studying enrollment trends in order to better understand changes that are unfolding across the country.  Recognizing trends is fundamental to effective strategic thinking.

I’ve suggested some simple ways of following trends, also urging leaders to aggressively tell the story of how their campus contributes to the local community and serves an audience that is quite distinct from those seeking either a traditional residential experience or a fully online program.  Nevertheless, despite my belief that branch campuses serve an important mission and audience, I am concerned about their future, even as I observe the creation of new branches every year.

To begin with, the continuing growth of online enrollment is bound to affect branch campuses.  Across the country, institutions struggle to maintain enrollment and balance their budgets, with the result that competition expands and intensifies, while at the same time, online opportunities pull people toward more flexible and affordable courses and programs. 

If you decide to compete for online students, remember that simply offering online options doesn’t mean that students will choose your courses or programs.  There are so many online choices to be made, and so many ways of gaining academic credit for the effort.  The growth of certificates and badges to document specific knowledge and skills may even make traditional programs less relevant.  The right program, offered at an attractive price to a targeted audience reigns supreme.

At the same time, dual enrollment opportunities for high school students are a major trend.  It seems likely that more and more young people will graduate from high school with at least a year’s worth of general education credit, having taken courses that are critical to the financial model of most institutions.

For example, I’m familiar with one university that feels nearly forced to offer college courses on high school sites, either through qualified high school teachers, for which the institution receives only $40 per credit hour, or with their own instructors, for which they receive $80 per credit hour, in either case taken from the school systems’ state support.  Although the institution can cover direct instructional costs with this income, it cannot cover the cost of support services, facilities, and traditional faculty, which could undermine the institution’s ability to maintain its core mission.

A major problem is that many institutional leaders (e.g., presidents, provosts and CFOs) do not appear to be especially strategic in thinking about how to effectively promote their various delivery options, across their main campus, branch campuses and online programs.  Just saying you want more students and more revenue is not a strategy!  And the recruitment and retention of nontraditional students cannot be accomplished effectively by simply extending practices with traditional audiences.

Finally, thinking specifically about university branches, watch the trend of offering applied baccalaureates through community colleges.  My observation is that these opportunities are not only expanding, but they are popular with students.  Hammered on one end by dual enrollment and on the other by community college baccalaureate programs, things could get tough.  On the other hand, my friends at community college branches may have some exciting growth opportunities!

Higher education is in trouble, and branch campuses should be part of the solution.  I see so many dedicated people working hard to create opportunities on their branch campuses, while key people at the main campus seem dedicated to blocking their growth.  If you want growth, then take time to learn about how it happens or give the responsibility and authority to someone who can get it done.

To be sure, outcomes won’t be the same everywhere; some campuses will thrive and some will struggle or close.  But I suggest that the greatest likelihood of success occurs when campuses take steps to understand both threats and opportunities, positioning them to drive their own future.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Miscellanea for Branch Campuses

Touching on several subjects, mostly personal:

A few days ago I passed 20,000 views on this blog.  Given how long I’ve been posting, 20,000 is anything but “viral,” but it pleases me that some people either subscribe/follow or simply stumble on the blog, and from the feedback I receive find it to be helpful.  Nice.

Originally I started this blog to provide a service to the National Association of Branch Campus Administrators (NABCA), as well as to help me organize my thoughts for a book I wanted to write.  That book, Out on a Limb:  A Branch Campus Life was published almost two years ago, and I’m pleased to see that it continues to sell, in both print and electronic versions on Amazon.

Speaking of NABCA, if you haven’t attended the conference, you should consider doing so (  Unfortunately, it often isn’t until a person attends that he or she realizes how valuable it can be to meet other people working in the branch world.  If you can make it, you won’t be disappointed.  I can almost guarantee that you’ll come away with some new friends and good ideas.

Aside from pitching my book, I’d also like to remind readers that I work as a consultant and coach.  I enjoy visiting campuses, because I meet interesting people and nearly always discover something that I haven’t encountered before.  Branches certainly share a number of qualities, but they also have their unique stories, bringing a variety of challenges and opportunities. 

Branch work can be isolating or even lonely, especially for new branch administrators.  I hope this blog and my book might help, and I’m sure that attending the NABCA conference is therapeutic.  Working with a coach provides a helpful and safe sounding board outside the organization, which also contributes to professional growth.  To be sure, I’d like to have a few more consulting or coaching clients, but more importantly, branch administrators need a source of support from someone who understands the unique challenges that branch campuses face.

Finally, from time to time I pass along resources that I think may be of value to people leading branch campuses.  I suggest you check out WCET Frontiers (, a blog dedicated to e-learning topics.  It behooves advocates for branch campuses to stay on top of e-learning developments, but I also find information of general value on this blog.  Check out this post:, which reports on enrollment trends, online as well as across other sectors.

If your campus is like many across the country, you may have experienced declining enrollments over the past few years.  In fact, most sectors of higher education have experienced declines, but online continues to grow, with one in seven students now enrolled exclusively online.  Online options are a serious competitor to other choices, especially for the audience served by branches, but my argument is that most institutions will find that their main campus, branches and fully online programs serve different audiences, inviting thoughtful strategies to exploit a range of opportunities to build enrollment and generate revenue.  Check out WCET.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

2015 End-of-Year Thoughts on Branch Campuses: The Macro View

I feel as if I should offer an end-of-the-year post, but I don’t see a lot of change in the past twelve months that would affect what I wrote last year.  (See  and

I do have a couple of suggestions for people interested in branch campuses.  First, in the past I wrote about immersing yourself in data.  It is only by digging into the information available to you that you can confidently identify trends.  It is equally important to take a “macro” view of things that are happening broadly, so that you can see the bigger picture beyond your own situation.

If you are looking for that macro perspective, you might consider using Google Alerts.  I have an alert for “branch campus,” and nearly every afternoon I get an email with one or more hits from the Internet that mention a branch campus.  Most of the alerts are of little or no significance to me, but some fill in information that I wouldn’t have received from the daily electronic newsletters that I receive.

Sometimes I see a newspaper story about a branch campus served by a member of NABCA.  That’s always entertaining, and if a friend is mentioned, I may shoot off an email of congratulations.  In other cases I may learn about plans, or at least ambitions, for a new branch campus, or perhaps I read about plans to expand programs on an existing campus.  Google Alerts doesn’t pick up everything, because my own posts show up sometimes, but not consistently.

Scanning the environment on topics that interest me, including branch campuses, has always been an important tool.  It’s a great way to discover ideas, for one thing, and it keeps me from being too focused on more narrow local concerns.  Newsletters, personal contacts, and Google Alerts all help with that.

Of course, scanning doesn’t replace the need for good research, but it does create impressions.  When I wrote recently about my concern that institutional leaders do not appreciate the full strategic potential of their branch campuses, that view came from my own experience, reinforced by what I read and discuss with others.

Here’s something that my scanning suggests, at least to me:  Even though I am concerned about the mission of existing branches being undermined by both external competition and short-sighted internal decisions, I also see that there is a surprising number of new branches being established in the United States.  Many of these new branches seem to have a narrow, focused mission, but others look like more established campuses, intended to serve a region that needs better access to higher education.  Interesting, especially in a time when most of the conversation is about online education.

My second suggestion is that you attend NABCA next April (see  The opportunity to interact with others who work on branch campuses and to attend a wide range of presentations during the conference sessions is invaluable.  My major point is that branches often appear to exist in isolation from one another, and they do, in fact, come in a wide range of forms and missions.  Often I meet people who tell me that they feel very alone in their work.  Attending NABCA, combined with seeking out the research that is available, dwelling in the campus data that are available to you, and continually scanning the environment can go a long ways toward appreciating that your own branch campus is surely part of something bigger.

My third suggestion is more personal:  If you haven’t seen or read my book, Out on a Limb:  A Branch Campus life, please check it out.  It’s available on Amazon, in both electronic and print form.  Feedback has been very positive, and you might find it to be helpful.  You might even want to buy several copies to share with co-workers.  Again, just a suggestion.

Happy holidays!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The International Branch Campus Trend

Perhaps you’ve seen articles about universities establishing branch campuses in other countries.  Check out this piece, which is the most informative I’ve seen on the subject:  It was written by Nigel Healey, at Nottingham Trent University.

Follow the links embedded in the article, and I think you’ll have a good overview of the trend.  Note that quite a few international branches have failed and, if you are associated with what I’ll call “domestic” branch campuses, you’ll also see that there are extra challenges that come with working internationally.

The article mentions that universities in the United States currently have 50 international branches and United Kingdom universities have 27.  Other countries have smaller numbers, yielding a total of well over 200, in all.  Of course, these numbers are probably a tenth of the number of domestic branches in the United States, alone, so the true impact of international branches is likely to be modest, at least in terms of numbers served or net revenue generated.  I suspect the fact that a number of “elite” institutions have gone the international route has done more to draw attention than anything else.

My own experience with international branch campuses is quite modest.  I’ve visited branches in Russia, Mexico, Hong Kong, and Canada, but all of these campuses were domestic, in the sense that the main campus was in the same country.  Still, the experiences were informative.

Ohio University, like most institutions has many international relationships and has offered programs in other countries, but we’ve not had anything I’d call an actual branch campus.  We did have a center in Hong Kong for more than 20 years, based at Hong Kong Baptist University, and that center reported up to me in my years as vice president.  We employed a small on-site staff and local faculty to teach traditional face-to-face classes.  We sent Ohio faculty to teach intensive courses in the summers and during the winter intersession we had at the time.  Hong Kong students also had access to online or correspondence courses.

I loved the Hong Kong center, and we learned a lot through the work we did there.  The center occasionally helped with other relationships in the region, but it was never highly profitable.  Eventually, the center closed, partly because of the emergence of online programs, but mostly because local universities expanded the opportunities they could provide in a way that cut into our enrollment.  I suspect other institutions may find a limited timespan for international branches, as well.  That doesn’t make them a bad idea, but it does suggest being careful about investment in facilities or in permanent local faculty.

Personally, I’m skeptical that international branches will bring the sort of enrollment and financial contributions that domestic branches often achieve, but there may well be other reasons to proceed, even if the branch is likely to survive only for a relatively brief time.  In any case, although the international story is interesting, I wish domestic branches and their good work were receiving as much attention as the international trend.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Branch Campus Quality: Tell Your Story

Years ago, when I was associate dean of the Mansfield Campus of Ohio State, I was talking with a department chair on the main campus who had been especially resistant to allowing one of our tenure track faculty members teach a course for which he appeared to be well qualified.  The chair said, “We have to be sure that the quality of a regional campus course is equivalent to that on the main campus.”

I jumped on his use of the word “equivalent.”  “You mean,” I said, “We should make sure we have 300 or more students in introductory sections and make sure that we have TA’s teaching most of the lower division courses, rather than using full-time faculty?”  The chair was surprised by my directness, but I was tired of the nonsense.  It took some more work, but eventually the faculty member was cleared to teach the course.

At about the same time, a local business leader and main campus alum challenged me on that same issue of quality.  My response was, “The only time we differ from the main campus is when we can do better.”  I repeated the point about class size and described our hiring standards for full-time faculty, as well as our practice of following main campus department requirements for hiring adjuncts.

My point is that branch campus faculty and staff members know that we often engage with students in ways that yield a stronger educational experience than many students have at the main campus.  No, we probably don’t have a climbing wall in a fancy student fitness center, but our students aren’t looking for a climbing wall.  We don’t get a lot of recognition, and the mythologies of higher education will never give us (or our students!) the credit we deserve. 

To be sure, regional and branch campuses differ enormously in their practices and just how closely they work with main campus departments on faculty qualifications.  Sometimes branches emulate the main campus when it makes no sense for the branch mission, and I’m sure that some branches have compromised quality at times in order to get things done.  But branch campuses deserve positive recognition, when positive goals have been attained.

Institutional politics are real, of course, so one shouldn’t react to every insensitive or uninformed comment that comes along.  Nevertheless, I encourage faculty and staff members to speak up in order to tell a positive story that documents an important mission achieved.  Tell your story!

To that end, here is a very positive, polished video from the University of San Francisco, a Jesuit institution with branch campuses.  I should note that I have no experience with this university, so I am simply sharing an impressive message that tells a nice four-minute story about the value of branch campuses:

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The 2015 National Association of Branch Campus Administrators Conference

The 18th annual conference of the National Association of Branch Campus Administrators (NABCA) was held in the Quad Cities of Iowa and Illinois, on April 15-18.  As perhaps the longest serving member who still attends, I thought it was the best conference yet.  The founders of NABCA should be proud of what they started, and as I told attendees, what NABCA has become is very much what the founders intended.  (I was not a founder, by the way.  I began attending the conference, then known as the Western Association, about five years after the launch.)

This year, especially, I thought there was a spirit and collegiality that was remarkable.   Presentations were excellent, and the organization of the event was spot on.  Everyone involved in planning and executing the conference deserves praise, and I offer special congratulations to joyce gillie gossum (executive director), James McCaslin (president), Allison Fitzpatrick (conference chair), and Joseph Rives (site host).

There were two keynote speakers.  Mary Landon Darden, author of Beyond 2020:  Envisioning the Future of Universities in America, spoke on Thursday offering her thoughts on how branch campuses can thrive in changing times.  I was honored to be the Friday keynote, speaking on the mission and significance of branch campuses. 

If you are not a member of NABCA, I encourage you to visit the web site:  NABCA leaders have worked hard to create significant value to membership, even beyond the annual conference.

Please consider becoming a member, and I hope you also consider attending next year’s conference, which will be hosted by Wilmington University, in Wilmington, DE, April 13-16.  If you work on or with branch campuses, I promise you will enjoy and appreciate an opportunity to spend time with people who do what you do!

Update:  I am pleased that you found your way to this blog post, and I hope you check out other posts I’ve made over the years.  In addition, if you find the blog helpful, please take a look at my recently published book, Out on a Limb:  A Branch Campus Life.  The book is available on Amazon, in both print and Kindle versions.  You can find it at