Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Branch Campus Growth is International

One of the challenges faced by people associated with branch campuses is the lack of literature or other obvious resources to help identify best practices, mistakes to avoid, or typical challenges. As a result, branch campuses come in a wide range of "flavors," around structure, programs, budgets, and mission. I hope this blog and the conferences organized by NABCA and RBCA help provide a sense of connection for people in the branch campus world.

In this context, I thought it would be worthwhile to draw attention to my impression that the number of branch campuses is growing, not only in the United States, but around the world. To be sure, there are the well publicized examples of American institutions launching international branches, usually in Asia or the Middle East. However, I am most interested in the simple reality that universities and colleges around the world often create branches, within their own country, in a manner that appears to be very similar to what happens in the U.S.

I have been fortunate to visit branch campuses in Mexico, Canada, Russia, and Hong Kong, and I have met individuals from Australia, Mexico, and other countries, who attended NABCA or RBCA. The issues faced in those countries seem similar to issues that arise here, but I don't know that to be a fact. There's a nice research opportunity for someone doing a thesis or dissertation: Comparing main campus and branch campus operations in different countries!

Recently, I visited campuses of the University of Northern British Columbia. It was an outstanding experience. There weren't any stunning surprises, during my visit, but the differences from my own experience were enough to be both interesting and engaging. Like most institutions, the UNBC story had unique elements, particular challenges, and highly recognizable points of view, both from branch and central campus folks.

Beyond supporting the general call for more research on branch campuses, I want to suggest that one might get especially interesting perspectives, by looking at branches in different countries, while "controlling" for as many dimensions, as possible: How would a branch in Mexico be similar to or different from one in the U.S., if the institutions are of similar size, in similarly populated areas, and so on. Are there differences in how they use technology? Do they attract similar or different student markets? Are main campus-branch issues similar? Can we learn things that will help us be more effective at our own campuses?

A quite different idea would be to partner with a branch in another country on courses or programs. A business course could use technology to have students in both countries working together on an international business problem. Guest lectures could be provided from both locations. Study abroad opportunities, often a challenge for branch students, could be relatively brief and intensive, with students and faculty members interacting by technology, both before and after the visit. I'd guess that branches from different countries could have a lot of fun, through partnership, as well as create outstanding learning opportunities and grow in cultural awareness. I know these things have happened, and sometimes they have been difficult to make work, but it seems well worth the effort.

In other aspects of my work, I've had some wonderful opportunities in the international arena, and they have enriched my life, enormously. In today's world, not only is it important to develop a global (heck, just a nonparochial) perspective, but technology can make it possible to do things that could not have been done effectively, just a few years ago.

Branch campus faculty, students and administrators have a natural platform to initiate a relationship. Go for it! Then, let me know how it works out. Or, better yet, come to NABCA or RBCA and tell everyone about it.