Wednesday, August 20, 2008
My own thinking about community engagement has evolved over the years. As a faculty member, my views weren't very different from those of my main campus colleagues: I enjoyed teaching and research; I preferred teaching brighter or more advanced students; I had my complaints and areas of satisfaction, but the theme was always about my own career.
As an associate dean, I became much more aware of the obstacles and occasional mistreatment that students experienced, and so I actually became much more student oriented. I also became increasingly involved in the community, and I discovered how enriching that involvement could be. I met exceptionally talented, committed individuals who valued team work and collaboration and who appreciated the need to leverage our time and talent, if we were going to improve the quality of life in our region. I also first began to realize that legitimate educational needs in our communities deserve to be addressed. If my university is unable or unwilling to address a need, then the community has a right to be disappointed and to seek a "better" partner.
These feelings of community responsibility only became stronger, when I served as a campus dean. In my particular town, which had experienced an economic turnaround in the years before I arrived, leaders credited the local branch as having taken a powerful leadership role in the turnaround. The campus was seen as not only responding to requests, but as having brought people together for dialog, listened to new ideas, and designed effective programs that made a difference, especially in the area of workforce development. That, I thought, was impressive and reflected meaningful engagement.
Engagement implies more than simply being responsive to requests for programs or services. It implies coming to the table to listen and understand, then work with partners to co-create programs or other initiatives. A responsive, but perhaps not fully engaged institution might listen and offer solutions to problems that are within its existing programs or competencies, but I believe that deeper engagement with our communities should be the goal.
That said, I have often been frustrated by the number of times there was a perceived need, on my campus or in the community, to which we were not even able to respond. Typically, it was an issue of an academic department--sometimes a single faculty member--declining to make courses or programs available. There also were times that university processes simply didn't allow for a timely response, and there certainly were times when a needed academic option didn't exist at our university.
I've been equally frustrated, when community or business leaders came to me with what amounted to a demand that we provide whatever course or program they happened to want, without regard to whether their objectives and the programs they requested were aligned, not to mention our legitimate concerns for quality or even for adequate sustainable enrollment.
I believe our campuses should be open to new kinds of partnerships, perhaps involving more than one higher education institution. Why shouldn't a local branch offer necessary general education courses, let's say, and another offer the major courses in a program that is helpful to a particular community? Or, why shouldn't a branch provide student support services and, perhaps, selected courses, while facilitating access to online courses from another institution?
More importantly, branch campuses should be encouraged to engage with their communities to increase knowledge about trends, opportunities and threats, and to share their expertise in ways that support community development, enlist community leaders in support of learning experiences, and bring back information on community needs that can guide future program development. With real engagement, maybe even my own frustrations would be misplaced. It wouldn't be about matching our programs with some perceived community need. It would be about creative, innovative partnering to make our communities better places to live and work.
With increasing use of technology and greater expectations of policy makers that institutions of higher education will recognize their responsibility to serve, creative partnerships will distinguish the most highly valued institutions from the tired, aloof places that assumed communities should be grateful just to know that all those smart people are doing whatever it is that they do at colleges and universities. Engagement, going well beyond responsiveness, will strengthen bonds between campuses and community, build strong support for the things that are important to our institutions, and energize faculty and staff who are part of the new initiatives.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
First, and even acknowledging what I have written in the past, I was struck by the incredible variety of branch campus models or "types" around the country. The campus deans from Ohio University provided a session that allowed the audience to respond to various questions about branch governance and other matters. Everyone seemed to enjoy the session, but what grabbed my attention was how difficult it is even to ask questions that make sense to everyone. With so many community college branches, upperdivision/graduate branches, two-year feeder university branches, and branches with a comprehensive mission, common ground isn't that easy to find. Governance and budget variations, among other things, add to the challenge.
I have a growing sense that an important dimension of "branchness" to consider is whether the campus is located in a rural or more urban setting. In the context of my last couple of posts, it seems to me that a branch in an urban area, with a reasonably large number of students (say, more than 2000), will be in a better position to adjust to challenges from online competitors. Urban campuses should be able to segment their market and deliver services and a range of programs--face-to-face, online, or blended-- that are valued by each segment. Rural, smaller campuses may find the competitive environment more difficult to address, as the audience for traditionally deilvered classes becomes smaller and the range of available online programs expands. (Rural campuses may be less hampered, and even enhanced, if their infrastructure costs are low, and if they are tied to institutions that support extensive online or blended delivery.)
Related to the difficulty of understanding the range of branch campuses and missions, the National Association of Branch Campus Administrators (NABCA) has established a task force on branch campus research, chaired by Phyllis Bebco, of Florida Atlantic University. The task force will be discussing and developing an agenda for research that seems most urgent or promising. You can check out all of NABCA's activities at http://www.nabca.net/.
On a different subject, I have the impression that more institutional leaders are beginning to recognize that their branch campuses should be included in a comprehensive strategic approach to growth. At the conference, I was especially impressed by our keynote speaker, Joel Hartman, who is Vice Provost for Information Technologies and Resources , at the University of Central Florida. UCF appears to have done an excellent job of developing a strong strategy to make "learning available on demand," through their various campuses and a strong emphasis on online and blended delivery. At UCF, it was reported, 55% of regional campus credit hours are online or blended. The financial advantage of online and blended delivery also has been strong, which is surely an important consideration in these difficult budget times.
For whatever reason, I am hearing more stories about presidents and other institutional leaders, who recognize the enrollment growth and revenue enhancement that branches, especially those that make powerful use of technology, can bring, while advancing an important educational mission. One implication may be a move away from treating branches as "colonies," at some institutions, and if those are the ones that thrive in the future, I am very much okay with that!
Sunday, June 8, 2008
Recently, I saw a study of adult learners in Ohio, who had previously attended a higher education institution, but not graduated, and were not currently enrolled. These individuals, age 35 or younger, overwhelmingly preferred online or strongly blended/hybrid courses, as an attraction for returning to school. Less than 8% of the responders indicated that they would prefer a traditional campus-based program delivery.
Although I hope that branch campuses will be more responsive than many other types of institutions to this audience, I also foresee new providers coming along and profoundly changing the competitive landscape. Someone (not me, but I can't remember where I saw or heard this) referred to a "second wave" of online providers that is developing. This second wave will include large and small public institutions, private nonprofits, and emerging for-profits. The second wave will employ a different financial model than "first wave" institutions, and it is a model that will be disruptive.
To paint a picture of what I see coming, let me be clear that I am focusing on nonconsumers--those individuals with some college, but no degree, or those individuals who never attended. What will attract these nonconsumers, however, also will attract other adult learners and at least some traditional aged students.
If you consider my previous post about disruption in higher education, and some of the challenges created by the revenue requirements to operate a traditional campus, there is a huge door though which new providers can walk. To the extent that a traditional branch has an expensive infrastructure and is overshooting the real interests of students, a model that squeezes out costs and passes the savings to consumers, rather than to stockholders or a main campus, could deliver programs at much reduced tuition and still be profitable through increased enrollment (volume).
My ideas in this area were influenced by a fascinating book, called The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, by C. K. Prahalad. I won't try to explain the concepts of that book, but I do recommend it for those who are interested in strategy. Thinking about how disruption might occur, and linking it to new business models led me to the following points.
First, to be successful in the "new online era," an institution will have to provide those programs that meet the perceived needs of adult learners. If it provides other programs at all, they will have to be in demand by other populations. Otherwise, the institution will be carrying expenses that will hurt its ability to compete. Because online options trump any protected geographic service area a branch may have, if the branch does not provide the right programs, someone else will.
Second, the institution needs to squeeze out unnecessary costs. Investment should be in the "product"--the courses and programs--and in support services for students and faculty. Marketing approaches need to be targeted in such a way that the costs are not nearly as high as most first wave institutions spend. (Effective, lower-cost marketing strategies are beginning to emerge.)
Third, cost savings should be passed on to students, pushing down the price to attend. Most instituions, if anything, do the opposite, and they are stuck, because they need the revenue to cover fixed plant and nearly fixed staffing costs. An aggressive competitor, as long as it covers its actual costs, while maintaining some "profit" margin per student, could (I believe) charge far less than most institutions and still provide high quality programs and services.
Fourth, a key to making this work is to be able to scale enrollment to much higher than common levels. You probably are familiar with the notion of "unpacking" the role of the faculty member. Institutions that build scalable programs create efficient processes for course design and development and use facilitators or coaches to work directly with students, under the supervision of a faculty member/content expert. The result is significantly reduced cost per credit hour, as enrollment increases. Thus, the business model can allow for strong financial performance at much lower tuition. (First wave institutions tend not to charge lower tuition, hence their own vulnerability to future competition. A big issue for them is their very high marketing costs!)
I know this is a sketchy presentation, but companies and institutions are out there developing this strategy. I see the change in pricing as opening up the market, with rapid effects that will start to overcome the brand advantage that existing institutions tend to rely on. If I'm right, things will change very quickly, once the tipping point is reached.
So, if I were advising a traditional branch camps administrator, what can he or she do today that will be helpful? First, I'd say, "Don't overshoot what your students value." In other words, take a hard look at costs and push them down, at least as they affect the population of students I am focused on here. Second, be very careful about plant costs, services provided, and the mix of continuing and adjunct faculty. Services should concentrate on those that are highly valued by most students. Third, start working now to incorporate online and blended courses in your curriculum, partly to provide greater flexibility to students. If you have a strong brand identity, use it, but in the end, if I am correct about the aggressive pricing of second wave institutions, brand won't likely overcome price for most campuses.
Repositioning a traditional, full-service branch, in anticipation of new forms of competition is surely a difficult challenge under the best of conditions. That, I fear, is yet another reason that campuses could be vulnerable to new competition!
Monday, May 26, 2008
A key concept in Christensen's work is the distinction between sustaining and disruptive technologies. I won't try to get into details about the distinction here, but suffice it to say that existing organizations tend to make good adjustments to developments in sustaining technology, but have trouble adjusting to disruptive technologies. One reason is that disruptive technologies may not be recognized for their potential to develop into a dominant technology, and during their early development, they generally have little to contribute to the bottom line of the existing organization.
To make an abrupt transition here, one could look at online education as a disruptive technology for existing institutions. A large residential campus has systems, services, and staffing intended to support historical delivery forms. Such a campus might well employ new technology to enhance learning in traditional classes and might even develop some online courses and programs for specific purposes, but it probably won't become a leader in serving the markets that are outside of their usual recruitment populations.
On the contrary, the reaction at a residential campus is likely to include arguments that online education will never replace the traditional classroom, that online programs do not measure up on quality or conflict with institutional mission, and that most students will prefer traditional delivery. On the support office side, the reaction is likely to be that staff don't have the time and resources to take on these new activities. All of these reactions actually have merit, but they also mean that the institution may not see how online programs are overcoming obstacles, until it is too late to participate meaningfully in the emerging market.
Two examples illustrate the dilemma. First, consider all the infrastructure and services provided by a residential campus. Lots of expense to buildings and grounds, a significant program in athletics, various services that many students rarely take advantage of, and relatively low teaching loads to allow time for research, all are part of what is built in to higher education, as we know it. The result may be an annual budget of hundreds of millions of dollars that must be supported by tuition, fees, endowments and state subsidies. The fact that all of this drives institutional decision making is consistent with the fact that it has worked for traditional audiences.
Branch campuses often cut out a lot of these expenses, and some (like ours at Ohio) pass most of those savings on to students in the form of lower tuition. But, if the branch is what has been called a "full service" branch, it still has significant plant expenses, faculty and staff salaries, and a range of services or student life opportunities that require funding.
In Christensen's terms, these institutions may well be overshooting their students. That is, they may be providing things that many or most students don't especially value or want. That's okay, if competition is limited. Residential education certainly provides an opportunity that many people value for reasons that extend beyond the classroom learning experience. I'd suggest that many--although certainly not all--branch students place a relatively low value on much of what a traditional campus provides. Like it or not, adult learners, especially, may be asked to pay for services they may never use.
The surveys I've seen of branch campus students suggest that students put heavy emphasis on price, convenience, location, the availability of certain academic programs, and maybe the perceived value of the particular diploma. They may not value most aspects of student life, in part because of commitments they already have to job, family and community. And, of course, they might have interest in delivery forms that add to convenience, especially if someone found a way to deliver programs at a lower price. Again, the population I am writing about primarily are adult learners, not necessarily recent high school graduates who are attending a branch campus.
The second point is that the significant market for growing enrollment lies in current nonconsumers. Demographics are working against institutions that depend on students of traditional age. Economic development interests seem to require that we find a way to engage more people in higher education, and so we have a need to understand why nonconsumers are choosing not to enroll. Although people have written on this subject, two major issues are surely perceived cost and other activities that put a claim on their time. Many branch campuses need to attract current nonconsumers, if they are going to maintain, never mind build, enrollment.
There are interesting examples of for-profit institutions, small privates, and large publics that in one way or another have developed successful online or hybrid programs to create flexibility. However, in many cases, these programs are at least as expensive to attend as traditional programs. Because many online providers are not well known in branch communities and tend to offer programs at premium prices, the branches I know of have competed effectively so far. What will happen, however, when an institution appears that can significantly underprice existing options, largely by eliminating costs from services that are not of value to some consumers and to most nonconsumers and from the elimination of heavy infrastructure costs?
The problem for branches and main campuses, alike, is to address competition for the nonconsumer, and that will be about providing the right program, at the right price, but without overshooting what students really want. Because branches come in such a variety of forms, some can thrive in this environment, whereas others will have too much of the costs of a main campus to respond effectively. That leads me to a prediction: I think that the "business model" for higher education, especially regarding adult learners, is about to change profoundly. Those branches that are thoughtful about how they add value, in comparison to a fully online, out of town provider will thrive, provided they are competitive on price, but those who believe they can compete by tweaking old practices or simply adding online to current delivery methods are going to struggle.
Sunday, May 4, 2008
Christine Quinn, from Winona State University, completed an exceptional year as NABCA president. Through Christine's leadership, we developed a reasonable and positive work plan, leading to real progress toward the further development of this important organization. Ken Shaw, from Florida State University, Panama City, is our new president, and there is no doubt he will keep us moving along on our agenda. Ken's campus will host next year's conference. Ken will work with Cecilia Rivers of the University of Central Florida to develop the program for the 2009 conference.
NABCA provides a wonderful opportunity for branch campus administrators to meet people who have very similar challenges and opportunities. The networking brings great contacts, exposure to new ideas, and, no doubt, more than a little therapy for people with difficult jobs.
I hope and expect that NABCA will grow and become an even stronger resource for branch campus folks. Keep an eye on the nabca.net web site for information and resources. You'll also find a link on the site for the upcoming Regional and Branch Campuses leadership conference, to be held on Longboat Key (near Sarasota), from June 22-25.
Best of luck to Ken, in his presidential year, and to Craig Johnson, from University of Arizona South, now vice president and president-elect. Onward and upward!
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
In this post, I want to share my perspective on the development of branch campuses at Ohio University. It draws on a piece I wrote a few years ago for a book celebrating our bicentennial, and it illustrates how the context in which a university views its mission can impact creation and development of branches.
Our branches developed out of a long-standing commitment to serve a rural, under-educated region of Ohio. Founded in 1804, the University began outreach programs in a systematic way by creating an "extension division," in 1909. The division offered classes in scores of locations (more than 70) around rural Southeastern Ohio.
My favorite story of those days is that we actually hired three faculty members in 1914, who spent their week (Monday morning through Saturday morning) traveling by train and street car to deliver courses in a number of towns. In 1924, we added to the live courses by becoming the only public university in Ohio to offer correspondence courses. Correspondence (now called Independent Study), continues to thrive, in part because of incarcerated students, who do not have access to the Internet.
Building on this experience, we established an evening division in Portsmouth and Zanesville, Ohio, in 1939. The evening division program was intended to offer a broader range of courses, allowing students to complete two years of study. Given that there was a limited pool of funding for colleges and universities, presidents of other universities objected strongly to the perceived attempt by Ohio University to grab more of the money. After just a year, the Evening Division closed.
However, in 1946, we returned to the idea of an evening division, this time opening three centers, in Chillicothe, Portsmouth, and Zanesville. The rationale this time was to serve returning World War II veterans, by offering the first two years of education, through programs at high schools, reducing pressure on our main campus infrastructure. Our president persuaded the governor that this was a short-term solution and that the program would be phased out, when the backlog had been met. We at Ohio University date the founding of our branch campuses from this time.
By the early 1950's, enrollment fell to fewer than five hundred students. However, the communities being served made a strong pitch to keep their "branches," so with agreement from the governor, the program continued. In fact, additional branches were opened in Belmont County (near St. Clairsville), Lancaster, and Ironton. Eventually (an interesting story in itself), our Portsmouth branch became independent and developed into Shawnee State University. The other five continue to operate, as branch (regional) campuses, to this day.
By the middle-1960's, there was a clear demand for daytime programs in the branch campus communities. At about that time, Ohio Governor James Rhodes made a (famous in Ohio) speech, in which he asserted that there should be a state-supported institution of higher education within 30 miles of every Ohio citizen. In 1966, we opened our first dedicated buildings, and true campuses were launched.
(As an aside, there are now 23 university branch campuses in Ohio, affiliated with 8 universities. All were founded as two-year feeders to their main campuses, most in the mid-60's to early 70's. Most now offer at least some baccalaureate programs, and some offer limited graduate program opportunities. Combined enrollment at the Ohio University branches exceeds 7000 students.)
There is a bit more to our story. In 1985, our campuses helped fund the creation of a system of microwave towers, to allow delivery of live, fully interactive televised courses, usually from the main campus to the branches. Later we moved to other technologies, but I've always believed that our experience with correspondence and with interactive television gave us valuable knowledge about using technology to expand access in a cost effective way.
Through the years, branch campuses and our other extension/outreach/continuing education efforts sometimes were part of a single administrative unit and sometimes were not. Presently, we are not joined, except at the level of the Provost. My personal role, after supervising a combined unit for eight years or so, is with the development of distance learning programs, rather than with the branches, themselves. I mention this fact, because it may have implications for how I think about the whole outreach situation.Writing a history of what we then called Regional Higher Education for the bicentennial book left me feeling proud of our long commitment to providing access to higher education. I felt that we had used the technology available to us to bring education to place bound individuals. Whether faculty members rode trains, served in residence on branch campuses, or used correspondence and the microwave system to reach students, it all was for the purpose of expanding access.
That leads to a question of whether branches of the type we have would be established today, with technology having evolved to new levels. Or, put more ominously, should we consider closing branches or at least reducing our investment in them? My answer is that we probably could not afford to create the type of branches we have, in the limited populations centers we serve, but the fact that we have them is an enormously valuable resource that needs to adapt to new conditions.
Not surprisingly (given that I am writing the posts) our branches fit nicely within the idealized branch category I described earier. We have 40 or so resident faculty at most campuses, offer a relatively full range of services, and have dedicated facilities. The whole operation earns and spends about $60 million per year. The branches pay an overhead to the main campus and also engage in some profit sharing with academic units.
Given the high cost of residential higher education, it is a great benefit to the communities we serve that many people can attend our commuter campuses and receive high quality instruction, benefit from a wide range of services, and enjoy a campus environment, without paying the higher tuition and living costs at a residential campus. We've seen considerable growth in full-time enrollment, and a decrease in the average age of students, suggesting that the campuses fill a need for both young and more mature students.
On the other hand, the campuses are relatively expensive to operate, with their facility costs, resident faculty, and relatively large staffs. That's why it would be difficult to establish such campuses today, as state funding declines and tuition caps are commonplace.
Somewhat coincidentally, we developed two facilities that I call outreach centers, in Pickerington and Proctorille, Ohio. Both are administered as "twigs" of branch campuses and give us access to larger population centers. Enrollment, especially at Pickerington, which is a Columbus suburb, has grown rapidly, with only modest investment in marketing. Faculty are very complimentary about the teaching environment and the staff support, and the cost of operation is quite modest. The facilities support a more limited mission than those of a full-service campus, there are no resident faculty, and staffing is limited to what is required to support faculty and students. From a financial point of view, it is a great concept.
As they move forward, I'm confident that the branch campuses will continue to develop and to meet an important mission for place bound students. However, the centers and our distance education programs will likely, in my opinion, be the source of the greatest growth and increased financial contribution to the University. To me, online or blended courses and programs reflect the next stage in our commitment to use the technology available to us to expand access, although in today's "flat world," the service region may be quite a lot larger than Southeastern Ohio.
All this leaves me wondering about the story at other universities or community colleges. What is the broad context for development of branches in various locations by different institutions? I'd be pleased to hear those stories through comments on the blog or email directly to me.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
On the other hand, a branch CAO is not considered to be the equivalent of a president by people at the main campus. Trustees, executive officers (especially including the institutions president), and faculty leadership, not to mention college deans and (probably) academic department heads would more likely view a branch CAO quite differently, if they give the CAO role much thought at all.
This leaves the CAO in a tough spot. On a day-to-day basis, working at the branch can be very satisfying. However, as soon as it becomes necessary to interact with the main campus, stress and frustration may start climbing. Many CAOs describe with pain and anger their attempts to influence deans and chairs, to gather resources or to expand programs. At some branches, the CAO may even lack meaningful authority over the schedule of classes, over the assignment of faculty, or over some budget matters that are essential for the campus to thrive. Although this is less likely to be true at the idealized branch, which has an independent budget and a local faculty, there still are plenty of sources for aggravation.
Nevertheless, if the CAO fails to appreciate the political nature of university leadership, it is unlikely that the frustrations will lead to anything very impressive. An effective CAO will recognize the political reality and work within it to accomplish important goals.
One ineffective approach I've seen several times is to become argumentative with the main campus leadership. A faculty member once told me that she had especially admired a campus CAO, because he was willing to fight for whatever faculty felt they needed. I happened to know that the particular CAO had become quite ineffective in working with the main campus. He tended to fight over every issue that came along, with the result that his own supervisor, as well as others in the leadership of the institution, simply didn't listen to him any more. His faculty may have appreciated his demonstrated "support," but his ability to deliver declined severely.
Others I've known who work with a chip on their shoulder tend to use words like "ought" and "should," frequently. I'll hear them say that someone should "demand" that a department or college cooperate on whatever program expansion is being discussed. I do understand that all of us need to vent from time to time, but when there is a consistent pattern of behavior, I can promise you that the CAO will have very little success on the main campus.
Another approach I've witnessed strikes me as completely understandable. If the CAO is treated with great respect in the community and thought of as having a very high position in the educational world, yet feels less equally respected at the main campus, then there will be a tendency to invest more and more time in the local community. By the same token, a CAO may find more pleasure in dealing with local operations than traveling to the main campus and working on relationships there--possibly with little to show for it, at least initially.
However, in any political environment, there are various stakeholders, each with their own interests. It is important to tend to things at the branch and in the local community. It is no less important, however, to work on relationships at the main campus. By definition, the branch campus is in a dependent role vis a vis the main campus. Any CAO needs cooperation on academic programs, almost for sure, and probably around faculty affairs and various administrative processes that are not directly controlled at the branch. How does one get support in that type of environment? Degrees could be earned on that subject, but for sure it is important to be visible and known, to be recognized as a serious partner who shares core values of the institution and can be trusted with its very precious curricular resources or to stay in channels and "follow the academic and administrative rules."
In a political environment, one needs to know other stakeholders well enough to understand and appreciate their concerns (interests) and to be able to offer something that they will find valuable. That is, it is almost impossible to negotiate for something that will inevitably complicate the lives of the other stakeholders, unless you also can offer something that eases some part of their own burden. In my 20-plus years in administration, that something has almost always been money.
For example, many years ago, at a different institution than the one I now serve, we wanted to bring a part-time MSW program to our campus. It happened that budgets were very tight, but courses taught at branch campuses had unique "call" numbers, and the income from courses taught on the branch came to the branch. We paid an overhead for services delivered to the main campus, but kept the rest. The branch CAO offered the MSW program head $10,000 per year, from program profits. To the MSW program, this was $10,000 that was outside of the operating budget they received from the institution. It was my first lesson that a relatively small amount of money, at least to me, was extremely valuable to a department chair or dean, because it meant being able to say yes to some faculty request that otherwise would have to be turned down.
Some branch CAOs with whom I've talked, lack control over critical parts of their budgets. For example, sometimes the budget for faculty compensation is buried in college budgets at the main campus, and main campus deans decide what will be taught and when. To me, that's a serious problem, because without some budget clout the branch CAO probably has very little to bring to the table.
The branch CAO is unlikely to control curriculum--the institution's product--so if he or she cannot be creative with the budget, there is only persuasion and the good will of main campus colleagues to rely on. I'd be very careful about taking a job like that, if I had an alternative. I will return to the subject of leadership in the future.