Monday, December 31, 2007

The Joys of Branch Administration

Just as I believe that serving as a branch campus faculty member was a better fit and opportunity for me, than serving as a main campus faculty member might have been, I also believe there were aspects of branch campus administration that were satisfying in ways that my main campus colleagues are less likely to experience.

I first came into administration as an acting associate dean on the Mansfield Campus of Ohio State University. I had been on the faculty for more than ten years, and when asked to serve, I thought it would be a good opportunity to get some hands on "management" experience, to support my teaching and consulting. Circumstances at the time suggested that the appointment might last about two years, and I figured that was enough time to learn some things, then get back to my "real" career.

It could be that I'm just attracted to new roles, but I had the same experience with administration that I had when I discovered research, as an undergraduate, and teaching, as a graduate student. I found that I thoroughly enjoyed the challenges and, especially, the feeling that I was part of a group or team. To be sure, I came in as the second-ranking administrator, but I liked the fact that I had co-workers with whom I interacted frequently and closely, and in some ways, I found more immediate feedback on what we did than I typically experienced as a faculty member. For me, the character of administration--lots of balls in the air, and a faster pace--was more satisfying. Conflicts didn't cause me a lot of discomfort, and people seemed appreciative, when I could help them with their problems. Needless to say, I never went back to full-time teaching.

Much of what I described could be true of anyone moving from the faculty to administration. However, I doubt that most main campus administrators have quite the range or diversity of activities that I got into in my first appointment. On a branch campus, we tend to wear multiple hats, and what would be thought of as different departments on the main campus may be just one department on a branch. In fact, if you look back at my definition of an idealized branch campus, by its size, it probably does not have the departmentalization--for faculty or for staff--that the main campus has. (One reason I have a hard time incuding very large "branches" in my definition is that, somewhere around 3500 students, I'd guess, it becomes necessary to departmentalize functions, and I believe at that point one of the key service aspects of being a branch fades away.)

The result of how we operate is that we have a very good view of the boundaries between main campus departments, and we can see where processes break down. As a result, most of us become skilled at maneuvering through the system. For years, I've suggested that new ideas could be tested usefully on one or more of the branch campuses, before being rolled out to the whole institution, precisely because we'd be in a better position to assess and troubleshoot. Of course, it has been rare for anyone to take me up on that idea, which probably speaks to the status issue.

In some ways, a branch campus does have all of the functions that the main campus has. Usually, there is a physical plant to be developed and maintained. There are community relations, similar to those the main campus needs to manage. Programs related to student life are often at a very small scale on branches, but essentially all types of services that are provided to main campus students also are provided to branch campus students. My own positions brought a whole range of challenges and opportunities that I never could have anticipated from a traditional academic's perspective.

I've known heads of branch campuses who like to point out that leading a branch is like being president of a small college. In addition to the range of services provided, the work with faculty, and the budget and physical plant issues, the head of the campus may well be involved in fund raising and may work with a local advisory board or council that has some qualities of a board of trustees. The analogy is okay, as far as it goes, but it seems to me that it tends to exaggerate the autonomy and minimizes the enormous impact of being linked to the main campus.

To personalize things, I think the pleasure of working closely with students, as individuals, makes working on a branch campus potentially more fulfilling than working at the main campus. Serving on a branch campus, we more frequently see dramatic transformations take place in students, right before our eyes. More often than at a residential campus, those students will stay in the local community after graduation and develop into outstanding school teachers, business or professional leaders, and leaders of community-based organizations. In short, we get consistent, real life feedback on how our work affects large numbers of people.

The sheer power of bureaucracy and workloads, the complicated need to bring other departments along on whatever improvements your own department may want to make, the structural distance from the institutional leadership (as compared to access to the local decision makers for branch staff), and the distraction of the enormous range of issues faced on the main campus, all can detract from the sense of making a difference. Branch staff get frustrated with the perceived lack of responsiveness by main campus staff, but if they walked a few miles in those main campus shoes, my guess is that most would feel fortunate to work where they do. Branch folks should remember that, at least at the campuses where I worked, we effectively were outsourcing a lot of problems and frustrations.

That said, and despite whatever counter-stories main campus staff may have about how someone on a branch campus broke rules, created problems, or whatever, there is no doubt that most branch campus administrators will say they are not given the same respect in decision making that a similarly ranked person on the main campus would receive. That may be, in part, because the branch staff do tend to cut across departments and, like faculty members, often are not seen as part of the core team, working at the main campus. I think it stems mostly from the different perspectives held by branch and main campus staff, but I also think there is an aspect of main campus staff viewing the branch as a colony.

I have very much enjoyed getting back to a large campus, in my work of the last nine years. My own stereotypes of main campus staff have been challenged. I've found that most staff work hard and are reasonable to deal with, especially if one takes the time to discuss issues early on. They do make assumptions sometimes about students and staff at the branches, which can be hurtful in various ways, and they don't easily delegate significant decision making authority to the branch folks. The real issue, however, is much more one of impressions and understanding, than it is of any bad intention.

If you have an interest in thinking about these types of comparisons, I recommend that you take a look at a book, The Innovator's Dilemma, by Clayton M. Christenson. It affected my own ideas about how to develop a successful, but relatively small entrepreneurial unit, within a large university, more than anything else I've come across.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Irony of Branch Campus LIfe

For the past nine years, my office has been on the main campus of our University. Before that, however, I spent more than 22 years as a faculty member and administrator on branch campuses of Ohio State University and Ohio University. I've been thinking about the fact that I had barely heard of anything called a branch campus, before I interviewed for what became my first position. I find some irony in the fact that much of my career has been tied to work in settings that are sometimes perceived to be suspect and of lower status than work at a "main" campus, yet my experience tells me that the impact of branch campuses on students and communities is often very special.

Keeping in mind that I've served at research universities, I'd be interested in hearing whether colleagues at other institutions share my perspective. I'll offer my personal take, on how my experience as a faculty member served me well, and then some observations about other people, who seemed to have a less positive experience.

For me, when I look back over my career, I recognize that, even as a student, I had relatively broad, eclectic interests. I became involved in laboratory research in cognitive psychology, as an undergraduate, and went to graduate school mostly so I could continue doing that sort of work. Then, a few years later, when I had my first real opportunity to teach, I fell in love with teaching, as well. Jobs were hard to find, when I came out of school, so I was grateful just to be employed, as an assistant professor at Ohio State Mansfield.

It was an excellent opportunity for me, given my interests at the time. At Ohio State, faculty members are appointed through the academic unit on the main campus, and the primary promotion and tenure vote is taken there. I perceived that as a fine thing, and I've taken pride in the fact that I was a member of such a distinguished department.

I knew that my teaching load would be higher than on the main campus and that I would teach more introductory courses, with more preparations. I expected--and I was right--that the research culture of the institution would help me maintain my work in that area. By the time I came into administration, nearly 11 years later, I had tenure and a very decent publication record.

Over time, however, my professional interests changed, dramatically. Mostly because of the type of courses I taught and the interests of students who took them, I shifted my attention from relatively esoteric laboratory research in short-term memory toward work in social and organizational behavior. Obviously, I have no way of knowing how I might have developed, had I been on the main campus, but given my inclinations and personality, I think it was great good fortune that I wound up in Mansfield.

Working on a branch campus allowed me to follow my own road. When I decided to change my research and teaching areas, it was a decision I could make, independently. (I did, however, stick with the original research area, until I felt confident about tenure.) Not only did I shift my teaching and research in new directions, but I also began to do some consulting and quite a few workshops and seminars for area businesses and professional organizations, which in turn led to involvement with various community groups. Somehow, I had stumbled on what I want to suggest is at least one route to enjoying service as a faculty member on a branch campus: relatively broad interests, genuine enjoyment of teaching, a sincere desire to stay alive as a scholar, and community involvement that was consistent with my academic interests. In short, my work and the perceived role of the campus came into alignment.

The idea of being a "big fish in a small pond" has always come to mind for me. I was, I believe, a successful branch campus faculty member. Yes, it was in a small pond, but it was satisfying in many ways. The colleagues I saw struggle in that environment generally fell into one of two categories. The first, and most obvious, were a few people for whom a branch campus was just a bad fit. In most cases they were individuals who felt that life had given them a bad shake, and instead of adjusting to the environment, they carried a negative attitude about the whole experience. Some were simply too focused on research to accept the reality of our teaching loads and service obligations. In some cases, they became poor teachers, appearing to take out their frustrations on students. Mostly, they just seemed to me to be missing out on the pleasures of branch campus teaching and the opportunity to enjoy conversations with colleagues from other disciplines.

The other group that struggled included good to excellent teachers, who simply couldn't, or didn't, produce the scholarship required to earn tenure. That was a much bigger issue at Ohio State than at Ohio University, in my opinion. In the Ohio State model, branch faculty generally are not held to the main campus standard for quantity of research, but there is still an expectation of significant work, published in major journals.

At Ohio University, tenure is on the branch campus. Teaching loads are moderately higher than at the Ohio State campuses, and the perspective on mission is driven by the branch campus perspective, more so than that of the main campus departments. The line I used was that we want our faculty to stay professionally alive and positively engaged in their disciplines. Thus, although we expect probationary faculty to produce and disseminate works of scholarship, we "count" presentations and publications in less highly ranked journals, research tied to pedagogy, or technical reports, as well as other activities that meet our expectations.

In my opinion, the Ohio University approach is better aligned with what I take to be the mission of branch campuses, but it brings its own problems, especially to the extent that branch campus faculty are not directly tied to their academic departments. In another bit of irony, it can be a bigger challenge at Ohio University to get main campus support to offer new programs, than it is at Ohio State, where the departments are typically more familiar with the abilities of their branch faculty.

For me, personally, I recognize that my life and career would have unfolded quite differently, if I had landed an appointment at a more traditional campus. I accept that my publication record was that of a journeyman scholar, not a major innovator, and that my status (not to mention my salary) was lower, as a result. But the closeness with students, the opportunity to follow my own, sometimes expanding interests, and even the physical distance from the main campus, were a blessing. An unexpected pleasure for me was the inherently interdisciplinary character of the branches where I worked, as well as the community involvement that would have been a much lower priority if I were at the main campus. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work at both Ohio State and Ohio University, with their different mission perspectives and, therefore, different approaches to expectations of faculty.

We know that the key to good work performance, high job satisfaction, and low turnover, is having a strong match between the person and the job requirements. Whether through good luck, the hand of God, or my own tendencies to adjust to the pond I was in, I believe I was well placed on branch campuses. I also believe that branches serve an important function that offers a sense of reward and of making a meaningful difference that belies whatever may be lacking in our usual measures of status at universities. Therein lies the personal irony: I never directed a doctoral dissertation, and the "ponds" in which I swam were small in some ways. Yet, working at branch campuses was one of the best breaks I ever got.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Branch Campuses as Colonies of the Main Campus

I am definitely not a professional historian. However, I enjoy reading in certain areas of history, and I suspect that some insights into main campus-branch campus relations could be gained by considering the relationship between an established nation and colonies it attempts to control at a distance. My own reading has included some coverage of the relationship between England, in the 18th century, and the American colonies, so my basic question is whether that situation has similarities to the relationship between a university and its branch campuses. Maybe someone more knowledgeable in this area can consider whether or not the analogy has value.

For example, branches don't just magically appear. Rather, they are created to meet some main campus need. The need might be to accommodate more students than the main campus can handle, to generate additional revenue from some more lucrative market, or to respond to some pressure from state-level policy makers. A branch campus might even be started simply to block another institution from expansion. The key point is that a branch will only be established, if there is some belief in its value on the main campus, at least at the leadership level.

(Indeed, I found a quote, which I can no longer locate, from Novice Fawcett, President of Ohio State University, when it first opened its branch campuses. President Fawcett said that he started the branches, in part, to block Ohio University from taking over the entire state!)

The result may be that main campus faculty and staff believe they hold a proprietary interest in the branch campuses, especially from an academic and financial point of view. Most likely, main campus people will feel that the branch exists only for whatever limited purpose was initially intended. Thus, the main campus faculty has a right to oversee who teaches what on the branches, to limit programing, to direct student services, and to charge branches for services, for use of "its" courses, and so on.

I'm quite sure that a lot of branch campus personnel feel like unappreciated colonists. Hal Dengerink, Chancellor of Washington State University Vancouver, says that branch campus faculty and staff need to understand that they aren't the "main thing," from the point of view of institutional leaders, and that fact has a significant impact on effective institutional political strategy. Too much boat rocking may well produce unpleasant results for the branches, given that the branches were originally created to help solve a main campus problem, not to create new ones.

I'd also expect the perspective of branch campus "colonists" to change over time. Early employees on a new branch campus often describe a sense of being pioneers, off in the academic wilderness, depending on one another for support, and engaged in holy work to create new access to higher education. Assuming enrollment grows and staffing increases, expansion of programs will seem logical to students, faculty and staff, and community leaders. It will not seem so logical to people at the main campus, who will tend to maintain perceptions (stereotypes) about the branches, as originally created.

Still another issue may relate to predictable conflicts over scarce resources. If money is tight, one can predict that the main campus faculty and staff will be concerned about any real or perceived drain of "their" resources. If main campus people perceive competition for students or dollars, they will almost certainly move to restrain branch campus growth. (I have lots of war stories on that score!)

A colleague at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee Campus, Peter French, has correctly observed that, if there is turmoil on the main campus, it will affect the branches, even if there is no mean spirited intent. Political battles can lead combatants either to court branch campus support, to attempt to deny the branch campuses participation in important decisions, or to use the branches as examples of the institution's "problems."

What happens if a branch campus grows to the point that it wants independence? I have no personal experience with a campus going its own way, so I don't know what struggles occurred, if any. There are examples around the country of one-time branches that became free standing institutions (e.g., Coastal Carolina University was once a branch of the University of South Carolina), as well as examples of relatively typical branches that gained a measure of self-determination (perhaps housing a school or college of the university, or pursuing separate accreditation and reporting lines to the president or trustees).

It isn't surprising that expectations held on branch campuses change over time. Especially if a branch was established a generation or more ago, that campus is by now the center of the academic world for its faculty, staff and students. Local program needs or the opportunity for personal professional growth are important. Limitations that seem unnecessary or even disrespectful will produce resentment in branch campus faculty and staff. Over time, the local perception of mission is likely to grow somewhat distant from the original main campus intention, and the branch campus folks may bristle at the "uninformed" or biased perceptions at the main campus. I've actually heard, on more than one occasion, a main campus faculty member or administrator refer to the branch campuses as "running amuck," when I didn't see anything happening except an effort to expand opportunities for place bound students.

Then, again, it is true, in my experience, that branch campus faculty and staff underestimate their dependence on the support of the main campus, including the value of its "brand." In their frustration, they will sometimes push the boundaries, break the rules, or (much like an adolescent challenging parental authority) try to sneak a course, or even an entire academic program, past the main campus authorities. That may look like running amuck to someone on the main campus and reinforce their biases. It might look more like the Boston Tea Party on the branch! (By the way, I do understand that there are very serious issues that occur with colonization that are quite different than the relatively narrow aspects I am wondering about.)

What can be done to allow for the natural maturation of branch campuses, without somehow losing the essence of what the main campus feels the institution is about? I suppose that is what many of us try to determine every day. I wonder if there are lessons from colonialism that could inform our thinking or, to be more scholarly, could lead to predictions about main campus-branch campus dynamics and evolution? At least in Ohio, most branches would not survive without ties to the trunk of the main campus, and they could not come close to providing the level of services they need for the money they have available. Are there models of colonies that have worked relatively well over time, or that relieved tensions and supported positive relationships? I invite your thoughts on this or other analogies and metaphors about branch campus life.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Why branches matter

In previous posts, I described what I take to be the typical (idealized) branch campus and suggested how future research might explore the implications of variation from what is typical. The case for branch campuses, however, is made on both rational and emotional grounds. These campuses matter, and far too many people, both on main campuses and branch campuses, fail to understand adequately why many branches thrive and how they make a difference. As a result, insittutions may not fully exploit the strategic potential of branches.

Some of the reasons branches matter are obvious. They offer access to higher education, usually with flexible scheduling and relatively small classes. Most branch campus instructors are highly committed to teaching, ahead of whatever scholarly interests they may maintain. Staff tend to wear multiple hats and to work in close physical proximity to each other, with the result that administrative departments do not have the sense of separateness that one finds in more highly departmentalized situations--students are less likely to be passed from one office to another.

Learning support may not always be what we'd like it to be on the branches, but compared to many main campuses, at least at large research universities, students perceive a high level of caring. Faculty members tend to be available to students and willing to discuss academic concerns. In part because of the inherently interdisciplinary character of branch campuses, faculty members may be more likely to discuss concerns about students with each other and to recognize problems in time to support a student's success. (As always, my perspective is tied to my experience with branches of research universities. The distinctions may be less apparent at community colleges or at teaching-focused universities.)

The cost of attending a branch campus may be considerably less than attending a residential campus. In Ohio, tuition on university branch campuses is typically lower than on the main campus, but this isn't true in many states or at all types of branches. However, even for traditionally aged students, families tend not to consider the cost of providing room and board at home in the overall cost of attending college. Students may accumulate less in loans and can actually work their way through school, a near impossibility at a residential main campus.

All of this represents generalizations that are commonly true, but not universal. If you believe as strongly as I do in the potential of branch campuses to change lives, then you'll also be disappointed, when you encounter a cynical or unengaged faculty or staff member, or an administrator who doesn't seem to embrace the mission. Moreover, I've found the main campus commitment to undergraduate education at Ohio University to be sincere and strong. I can argue that branch campus students do not receive a lesser educational experience than main campus students, but not that they receive a superior experience.

The real branch campus drama, in my opinion, lies in the personal stories told by their students. Sure, some students attend a branch because they lack the motivation to do anything else. However, I've seen audiences reduced to tears by students telling stories about how his/her life was turned around because of access to the education provided by the local branch campus. These powerful stories can serve an institution's leadership well, if they are used to illustrate how the institution is engaged with employers and communities, not to mention achieving the goals of trustees and state-level policy makers.

Yet, there are other reasons that branch campuses are valuable to institutions. For example, branches may lie in different legislative or congressional districts than the main campus, bringing political advantages that would not otherwise be so apparent. At Ohio University, we found that our branch campuses have access to donors who are not necessarily alumni and would never donate to the main campus, so there are opportunities for gifts that are unlikely to be obtained by the main campus. Broadly speaking, the community engagement and local access provided by branches build support for the institution that can be helpful and demonstrate the value of the broader institution.

Finally, for those who are familiar with the book Good to Great by Jim Collins, an important distinction is made between foxes and hedgehogs. Foxes look great and run around doing lots of different things. Hedgehogs, which may be less attractive, do only one thing, but do it exceptionally well. Branches tend to be hedgehogs, at least as compared to main campuses. That is, they may lack the status of the main campus, but, at their best, they are very focused on a mission of access and service. The result is that many branches get after their local markets with clarity of purpose. Main campus leaders could benefit from considering how and why their branches succeed or fail.

Keeping human and financial resources focused often produces stronger financial results, as well, which may serve broader purposes of the institution. In fact, I'd argue that part of determining whether a branch campus is needed or not should be demonstrating that it can fully cover its costs and help support institutional priorities. In my opinion, it is fundamental that demonstrating need implies demonstrating enrollment and net revenue that make the good investment obvious.

Branch campuses, then, serve a variety of purposes for institutions, including the noble commitments we all celebrate. The purposes served may not be a high priority to everyone on the faculty or in the administration, but the leadership definitely ought to get it. Well placed and supported branch campuses can become one of the most valuable assets of a higher education institution.

Monday, July 16, 2007

An Agenda for Branch Campus Research

Offering almost any generalization about branch campuses is difficult, because there is precious little research to support one's conclusions. Part of the problem is that we have no national-level data base on branches. In fact, the interested individual will find very little in the way of descriptive information that can be used to compare one institution's branches to another. The situation probably is less difficult within a given state, since policy makers will almost certainly have restricted the options pursued by various colleges or universities, but even within a state there are significant variations in, say, expectations of faculty or budget oversight.

The core problem is that branches developed "under the radar," and to meet some more or less local need. An urban institution may have opened a suburban branch, to make attendance more convenient; a rural institution may have opened an inner-city branch to offer graduate programs to adult learners; a university may have opened a branch on a community college campus to facilitate degree completion. The point is that, if you go looking for best practices to help you establish your first branch campus, you will be sorely disappointed.

Thus, this post is one of many calls for more research on branch campuses. However, I would like to propose something of a research agenda, at least from a macro perspective. To that end, in my previous post, I proposed a description of what I'd like to call an idealized branch campus. (Not ideal, from the perspective of people working on branches, but characteristic, in the sense of reflecting my own guess about what is most common.)

I suggested that the idealized campus is a permanent physical location, with at least some complete or nearly complete academic programs. There are resident faculty members, and services are available on site that are necessary to support faculty and students. There is a budget for this location, with day-to-day spending decisions made locally. On the other hand, academic control is located primarily at the main campus, which has to approve programs. Enrollment, typically, ranges from 700-3500 headcount.

Although I'd be happy to collaborate with other individuals who are willing to do most of the grunt work to collect and analyze data, I have no plans to conduct empirical research, myself. If I were to begin research, however, here is what I would do:

1. The first step would be to identify branches that fit my idealized model. I would distinguish between community college and university branches, but I'd collect data on both. My description is brief enough that finding campuses that fit shouldn't be too difficult, but it is important that they come from different states. I wouldn't worry about other aspects of mission or operations just yet, because I want the first cut to capture campuses that vary quite a lot on other dimensions.

2. Having identified my study group, I would construct a survey to obtain descriptive information about how these campuses operate. What types of programs are provided? What is the relationship of branch campus faculty to main campus departments? Where are decisions made about hiring and/or tenuring faculty? What is the title and authority of the branch campus's chief administrator? To whom does that administrator report? What services are provided? How is the budget obtained, and what is managed locally vs. at the main campus? All of these items could be teased out to create checklists or the like. The point is to expand the description of the idealized branch, including typical variations within the model.

3. It may reflect my own discipline, but I would probably try to do some more qualitative study on these campuses, seeking information about faculty and administrative perceptions toward the main campus, toward the formal mission, and toward worklife and career development issues.

The goal of this approach is to restrict the range of branch campuses being studied, in order to get a handle on typical variation within the study set. Having accomplished the goal, research can proceed in various directions. For example, one could study the idealized campuses more deeply, drilling into, say, the role and relationships of faculty members, or digging into mission or geographic differences to determine what effects they may have.

The obvious alternative is to use the idealized branches as a comparison group and to begin studying campuses that do not fit the description. Suppose everything is true of a set of branches, except that there are no full-time resident faculty. What follows? Can we get at least a sense of the value or the cost of maintaining a resident faculty? In the end, we might have a decent description, at least, of major types of branches, which future scholars could use to ask questions that can be meaningfully examined.

Through this post, I am trying more than anything to make suggestions about how research on branch campuses might be approached in a more programmatic way than seems possible today. If we create a more narrow, idealized picture of a typical or common branch, we might at least get something going. Comments or reactions to my post, including other ideas on how research might proceed, are welcome.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Characteristics of a branch campus

So, what are the defining characteristics of a branch campus? That's not an easy question to answer, because there is no agreed upon definition. I suppose there is an implication that there must be some "main" campus, hub, or mother ship, in order for a branch to exist. Clearly, there is an implication that the branch is somehow in a dependent relationship to the central campus, at least around curriculum matters. Conversely, institutions in a true system, such as those in North Carolina or California are not "branches," because they do have separate curricula and some independent governance processes, although such institutions can and do develop branches of their own.

Jim Fonseca, who is dean of Ohio University's Zanesville Campus, uncovered two formal definitions of branch campuses. According to the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education (CIHE), a branch campus is geographically removed from the main campus, offers 50% or more of an academic program leading to a degree, certificate or other recognized credential, is permanent in nature, has its own faculty and administration, and has its own budgetary and hiring authority. The U. S. National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) defines a branch as a "campus or site of an educational institution that is not temporary, is located in a community beyond a reasonable commuting distance from its parent institution, and offers organized programs of study, not just courses."

I think these definitions are good starting points. Offering a handful of courses in a shopping mall, at a high school, or in a place of business, does not seem to create a branch. I'd call that a site. However, I'd also make a distinction between what I'd call a branch campus and an outreach center. The problem, as you'll discover quickly if you attend NABCA or RBCA meetings, is that there are significant exceptions to any defining principle you'd care to express. Moreover, institutions do not consistently report statistics, or even addresses, for branch campuses and centers to national data bases.

Given that I am doing the writing here, let me share my own preferred descriptions of a branch campus and an outreach center. Think of these as idealized or prototypical descriptions, consistent with the CIHE or IPEDS definitions, but understand that individual entities will fit the description more or less well.

A branch campus is established by an existing institution, in order to make higher education more readily accessible to people where they live and work. It has a permanent facility, usually free standing. There is a local administration, providing a reasonably wide range of student services and support programs, although not the range one would see at the main campus. This idealized branch campus has a resident faculty, but curriculum control and the establishment of minimum faculty credentials come primarily from the main campus. I agree with CIHE and IPEDS that there must be geographic separation between the branch and main campuses, but I know the distance can range from just a few miles to hundreds of miles. Distance from the main campus doesn't seem to tell us much. I'd focus more on the administrative distinctions and decision making authority. In the end, a branch is a branch because it lacks autonomy on curriculum and faculty matters.

What I call an outreach center looks a lot like a branch campus. The difference, to me, is that there probably are no resident faculty members and the programs and services are more limited. Personally, I'm not keen on referring to a location as a branch, if it is offering exactly one program (say, running a law school), and I'd bet that such places don't think of themselves as a branch, especially if they provide the only location for the program. I also struggle with calling a location that has no resident faculty a "campus." That probably reflects my own experience and my bias as a former branch campus faculty member. On the other hand, if there are resident faculty, I have no problem referring to a university location as a branch, if it happens to be located on, say, a community college campus, with or without a separate building.

If you accept my idealized concept of centers and campuses, you will find that many, perhaps most, institutions do not fit perfectly. The reality is that branches developed to meet particular needs of institutions or even state-level policy makers. No one regulated these developments, at least in a serious way, and no one was writing about the phenomenon, despite the remarkable expansion across the country and around the world. As Jim Fonseca says, branch campuses developed under the radar of people who write about higher education. Yet, I'd estimate that well over 1,000,000 students attend branch campuses and outreach centers each year.

There are still other "definitional" matters to be considered. One of my own favorite topics is the emergence of twigs. Twigs are branches of branches. In most cases, I think a twig would tend to fit my notion of a center, rather than a campus, but the point is that they were created and are administered via the branch campus, rather than the main campus. As always, I have no data, but my strong impression is that twigs are expanding rapidly in number. I like the idea a lot. A twig is relatively low in overhead costs, but allows that blend of high touch to go with the use of technology to support students and expand access.

We have two such twigs at Ohio University. One is in Pickerington, Ohio, and is an extension of our Lancaster Campus. One is in Proctorville, administered by our Southern Campus. In both cases we have a number of classrooms, including computer labs and interactive television classrooms. There are no resident faculty, but we own the buildings and have a modest support staff that is very dedicated to assuring that students and faculty members have a good experience. Pickerington, in its present form, is the older of the two, and brings our relatively rural institution into the Columbus metropolitan area, getting us close to a very large urban market. It has grown rapidly and been a great financial success.

I also want to mention some of the typical issues that emerge with branch campuses. As a psychology professor, I could suggest a defnition of "branchness" that is based on the psychological characteristics of the people who work there. For example, nearly every branchperson I've met has something of a chip on his or her shoulder. Branch folks feel unappreciated and undervalued by the main campus. They also feel as if the main campus unreasonably, unfairly, and probably foolishly limits their development. In effect, people on branch campuses tend to feel suspended in a perpetual state of adolescence, blocked from maturing into fully adult institutions. Imagine how frustrated staff working at a twig could feel!

I spent 23 years working on branch campuses, so I often share these frustrations. On the other hand, for the past eight-plus years, I've been on the main campus, watching over five branches. From a main campus point of view, branches were created by the main campus to accomplish some main campus purpose. The purpose may have been to generate revenue, to respond to some political pressure, to block some other institution's expansion, or even honestly to expand access and opportunity. But the core values of the institution developed, historically, at that main campus. Thus, academic departments have real concerns about standards or quality, as perceived by them. Budget and administrative support issues can further complicate the relationship. Not having direct oversight of the branches leads to worry about what is happening "out there." The natural, first response of main campus academic and adminstrative units is to keep the branches on a short leash, lest they "run amok." (I've actually heard people say those words: "We need to keep the campuses from running amok.")

For their part, the branch campus faculty and staff tend to feel that they should be entitled to serve their communities and students. They often feel that main campus people do not respect the professional judgment of branch campus faculty and staff and unfairly limt them. Hence, a significant issue to consider: To what extent does the branch campus have the obligation, right, and authority to meet the needs of its own community, if those needs conflict with the perceived mission and values of the main campus that created the branch?

Given these feelings, it is easy to understand why many branch campus folks object to the term "main" campus. It seems to affirm the priority and authority, against which the branch campus strains. Thus, we get terms like "mother ship," which is cute enough, I suppose. Personally, I actually prefer the term "main." To me, the dangerous ground for the branch campus is where its faculty and staff construct a version of reality that feels good, but fails to recognize the political reality of their existance. Branch campuses succeed to the extent that they play the political game well. Getting to "yes" requires never forgetting who is on the other side of the table and how they view the world.

As a sidebar here, I want to mention that, in Ohio and a few other states, a lot of people also object to the term "branch." In particular, the main-branch distinction seems hurtful. Presidents often make a point of saying that they lead one institution, geographically dispersed. I appreciate the feelings and sensibilities involved, although I've never been personally bothered by the terms. Increasingly, I use the term "branch," only because it is the most readily recognized term around the country.

A couple more thoughts on what makes a prototypical branch: I think size and programs matter. My own observation is that an entity with a headcount of 700 or less has a hard time maintaining the number of faculty and range of courses and services that define a prototypical branch. On the other end of the spectrum, as a campus grows beyond, maybe, 3500 heads, it becomes necessary to subdivide faculty and departmentalize staff that starts moving away from the close colleagiality and easy communication of that prototypical branch. I don't expect campuses with fewer than 700 students or more than 3500 to say, "I guess we aren't a branch, after all." I'm just trying to get to an idealized notion, from which we can think about variations.

Regarding programs, the question for me is the extent to which a campus has programs that are not available at the main campus. The prototypical branch, I think, offers a selected range of main campus programs, or partial programs, that meet its specific market need. Sometimes, however, there is a need that cannot be met by an existing main campus program. We offer technical associate degrrees at some of our campuses, for example, because there is no community or technical college to do so. With one exception, those degree programs are not available at the main campus. We also have one baccalaureate degree, the Bachelor's of Technical and Applied Studies, that is not offered at the main campus.

These programs take us a bit away from the prototype. At some institutions, however, entire schools or colleges are located at a branch, along with other, more typically branch-type programs. Thinking of all this as a continuum, at some point we wouldn't have branches, but a true multi-campus system. I'm not sure where that point lies, but not surprisingly, I'd tend to emphasize how folks at the no-longer-so main campus think about it, how the governance processes work, and whether the less-branch-like people view themselves as independent or an extension of a main campus.

Finally, I think I should acknowledge one more way of thinking about "branchness." Jim Fonseca is a geographer, and he tends to believe that everything comes back to geography. (I tolerate his point of view, but realize that in truth it all comes back to psychology.) It is interesting to think about geographic effects on the creation of branches. I mentioned how we worked to access the Columbus, Ohio, metropolitan area. Look around the country, and I think you will see that urban institutions tend to create branches in the suburbs, to facilitate access, whereas rural instiutions move toward urban areas, to access the larger population. Other geographic considerations could come into play, including employment, shopping, and transportation patterns.

This could go on and on. I hope my idea of the idealized branch makes some sense, and that people may want to comment or ask questions about the implications of variation. It is not my intention to exlcude anyone from the branch tent, who wishes to belong. I merely want to get to some core notion that can help organize thinking and discussion. My next post will offer a suggestion about how researchers might use the idealized branch to shape the design of studies that can help us understand what is developing out there, under the radar.

To summarize, then, my idealized branch is a permanent physical location, with at least some complete, or nearly complete academic programs. There are some resident faculty members, and services are available on site that are necessary to support faculty and students. There is a budget for this location, and day-t0-day spending decisions are made locally. Fundamental academic control, however, is at the main campus, which has to approve any expansion of programs. Enrollment typically is between 700 and 3500 students. Faculty know each other and their students, and staff typically wear more than one hat. Administrative offices are likely to be located in close proximity to each other, so that, at least from a student perspective, office boundaries are blurred.

I welcome comments.

Monday, July 9, 2007

This new blog is intended to provide an opportunity for the thousands of administrators working at branch campuses of colleges and universities to share their thoughts, questions and new ideas. There are more than 2000 branch campuses in the United States and around the world, yet very little literature addressing our issues. It is time that we have a forum to support our work.

I came to this idea as a result of my participation over the years with two groups of administrators, dedicated to supporting the development of branch campuses. The first is the National Association of Branch Campus Administrators (NABCA). NABCA is about ten years old, and I invite you to visit our website at NABCA hosts an annual conference, in April, with attendance on the order of 125 individuals. The other group, now more than 35 years old, hosts a conference called the Regional and Branch Campus Administrators Conference (RBCA). It occurs in June, with a focus on leadership issues at branch campuses. Attendance is smaller (65 this year), providing extensive opportunities to network. You can reach the RBCA website by a link on the NABCA site.

By way of personal introduction, I have been associated with branch campuses for more than 30 years, as a faculty member and administrator. I am a psychology professor, by education, with an interest in organizational behavior, so I have spent a lot of time thinking about our particular concerns and discussing them with colleagues. My intention is to post some thoughts on various topics and to invite any relevant (civil) comments others may wish to share. Over time, I hope to address a variety of issues, mostly expressing my own views. Others are welcome to participate.