Sunday, March 28, 2010

New Directions

I have no idea how many people read this blog. From time to time someone will tell me that they read the posts and enjoy them, and when I go to the NABCA conference, there usually are some comments. So, at the risk of emulating a tree falling in the forest with no one around, I will share an announcement that is at least important to me: I will be leaving my current position in mid-June, and after completing some other “duties as assigned,” I will retire from Ohio University on December 31.

I’m excited about reaching this point. What may not be apparent from the blog is the fact that I have not been working with our regional or branch campuses for the last three years, anyway. I had planned to take an early retirement in 2007, but agreed to stay on to lead development of a more aggressive distance learning program at the university. That work has gone extremely well and been a source of enormous satisfaction to me. I more or less had an opportunity to build my own team, and they are the most energetic, creative people with whom I’ve ever worked. “Amazing,” as the kids might say.

Still, I’ve remained interested in branch campuses, as the unique delivery form I believe they represent. I am deeply grateful for the fact that I landed, as a faculty member, at Ohio State-Mansfield, way back in 1976. I barely knew that branch campuses existed, and like so many others, I thought I’d teach there a few years and move on. But for over 30 years, I served as a faculty member and administrator in roles connected to branch campuses at two universities.

Along the way, especially over the past 15 years or so, I’ve had many opportunities to visit branch campuses all over the United States and in two other countries (Russia and Canada). I’ve met a great many individuals who have committed a large portion of their careers to the mission of expanding opportunity for students who otherwise could never hope to achieve their educational dreams. That has made for a terrific career path.

When I add the experiences of the last few years to the mix, I feel as if I’ve significantly broadened my understanding of how higher education can effectively and successfully serve nontraditional audiences. I don’t know that anyone else has had the range of experiences with branch campuses that I’ve had, but to lead campuses effectively in the future, I believe it will be necessary to have a strong grasp of distance learning opportunities and of the adult learner audience.

What I’ve said many times seems to be coming true even more quickly than I expected: Demographics, technology and the preferences of adult learners have combined to create a disruptive environment in higher education. Branch campuses are in a terrific position to compete effectively in this emerging context, but to do so their home institutions will have to develop a deeper understanding of the access mission and how to take advantage of their circumstances to create even more opportunities.

I’m convinced that the most successful organizations (including the for-profits and any others) will emphasize exceptional student services. If we finally take the step of putting students first, we will be better able to understand how to create programs and business models that can soar. If we stay on defense and hope that something will save us, then…

Like so many Baby Boomers, I have no intention of retiring to a life of leisure. Certainly, I hope to have a bit more balance in my life for family, friends and travel, but I also intend to find some mix of consulting, writing, and speaking that will keep me engaged. Frankly, these times are too interesting to walk away. I don’t want just to read about what is coming; I want to participate in some way.

I’d love to help institutions, branch campuses or otherwise, develop strategies for success in this disruptive environment. I don’t mean this to be a commercial, but I’d enjoy working as a sort of organizational coach on strategy development, or otherwise engaging in conversations that could lead to greater success in what has become a very competitive environment. I’m especially interested in how university branches and small privates can carve out a special niche that will help them thrive in the future, and I’ve enjoyed the consulting opportunities I’ve had in the last several years.

I also plan to continue this blog, and I am working to create a web site that can host a new blog on broader topics of interest to me, as well as other pieces I may want to share. We’ll see what comes along. A lot of things interest me.

I want to thank the many, many individuals who have enriched my life in the past and who, no doubt, will continue to be important to me. I have made so many friends, in so many places, and I’ve learned to distinguish people who are honestly committed to the access mission from those who may have other motives. These branch campuses can and do change the world, and it is an honor to have worked in this part of higher education. I see a fork in the road, ahead. Can't wait to see what comes next!