Monday, December 5, 2011

Alternative Certifications in the Disruptive Environment

Check out a piece in Inside Higher Education, titled “How will Mozilla’s open badges project affect higher education.” ( The term “badges” refers to earned credentials that document specific competencies, similar to the way continuing education units sometimes offer completion certificates. The Cisco Certification, which was developed by Cisco, but delivered in partnership with educational institutions, is a closer example.

Even as people consider the possibility of a Christensen-style disruption in higher education, most assume that established, accredited institutions will maintain their near-monopoly on credentialing what is learned. However, what if employers began to favor specific skills or knowledge sets over degrees? If other, reliable entities offer badges or certificates that meet the needs of important audiences, we might see a much less expensive option for people than attending a brick and mortar institution, with all of its expenses that are of no value to students at a distance.

In my consulting work, as well as in my blogs, I’ve encouraged institutions to consider offering more online or hybrid certificate programs that would appeal to this type of audience. Boomers seeking an encore career are a great example of an audience waiting to be served. When I “retired,” I had no need for another degree, but I did want something to document that I was a certified professional coach. In my case, I obtained that credential through the College of Executive Coaching (a business, accredited by the International Coaching Federation), and it fully met my needs.

To be sure, there are colleges and universities that offer coach training programs, but that just makes my point: In the disruptive environment there may be a variety of competitors, offering programs that appeal to diverse audiences, affecting programing strategies and financial models. Speaking to branch campus leaders, if certificates and badges are carved out of existing programs, development costs could be minimal, while attracting an audience your campus otherwise will miss. Given the increasingly difficult challenge of balancing the budget from traditional enrollment, many campuses could benefit from this opportunity.

Bluntly, if you are in a leadership position at a branch campus, you should be keeping a close eye on emerging options, such as badges and certificate programs that document knowledge and skills. My guess is that branches may find that the political challenge of creating certificates will be less than trying to convince the main campus to support entire degree programs, as well.

It is time to get creative and to think about your student audiences in a nuanced way. Putting the pieces together effectively will determine whether or not your campus competes effectively, and that will be more important than hoping that your brand will save the day.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Personal Message about Coaching, Encore Careers, and Branch Campuses

Although I remain committed to the development of branch campuses, for the past two years I also worked steadily to design an “encore career” for myself. In that time, I’ve worked as a consultant, become a certified professional coach, accepted several opportunities to facilitate planning meetings, and established a second blog, “Creating the Future,” at I’ve expanded my consulting role to include distance learning strategies, under the broader umbrella of programs for adult learners.

Now, I am pleased to share that I created a company, Encore Dreams, LLC. You can see more information on the company and its services at That site is a single page, but it also links to my personal web site,, and to “Creating the Future.”

Through Encore Dreams, I offer transition coaching to individuals, as well as a Life Transitions Workshop. Both provide support to people as they study and reflect on the talents and experiences that contribute to their sense of well being, and then use that information to discover their personal dreams for the “second stage of life.”

My work as a coach is compatible with my interest in supporting branch campus leaders. Transition coaching, specifically, is of value for individuals as they begin a new position. It has value for experienced administrators who would like to move up, either at their present institution or elsewhere, and it certainly can be of value for administrators who are approaching retirement and considering options for the future.

Creating Encore Dreams, LLC, doesn’t end my work as a consultant and executive coach, but I do hope it helps me make a point about everyone’s potential to design life solutions that are strengths-focused and action-oriented. I will continue to work with branch campuses, but also to provide support to a broader audience, as well.

I want to emphasize that the relationship between a coach and client is important, so this is not meant to be a commercial just for my work. I benefited from coaching, as I approached my own transition, and there are many qualified coaches out there. A lot of coaching is done over the telephone, so distance from someone with whom you’d like to work should not be a barrier.

Finally, I want to mention that the concept behind Encore Dreams is relevant to the fact that many colleges and universities recognize the importance of attracting much higher enrollment from adult learners. I’m perplexed by the difficulty institutions have in understanding this audience and developing effective strategies for recruitment and retention. When I look at web sites, only a handful of institutions have created targeted programs that actually are distinctive and focused on what adults want and need.

I already consult on the development of branch campuses and programs for adult learners, but consistent with the Encore Dreams idea, I hope to connect with leaders who understand that a program targeting people in transition—whether to an encore career or not—can set their institution apart and provide a competitive advantage.

(If you are interested in seeing examples of college programs that directly serve people seeking encore careers, check out It is a site maintained by Civic Ventures, providing a wealth of good information.)

If Encore Dreams, LLC can be of service to you or to your organization, please get in touch, either through, or directly, by writing to me at or at

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Developing a Typology of Branch Campuses, Phase 2

All of us interested in branch campuses recognize that we need more research, if we are to develop a good description of typical variations in academic and administrative practice. For that reason, the NABCA executive committee created a research committee, to encourage and support studies that help inform its membership.

For several years, Phyllis Bebko, at Florida Atlantic University, chaired that committee. It’s new chair is Jack Krueger, at Adelphi University. Among other activities, the research committee conducted a survey of branch campuses that was reported in the recent special issue of Metropolitan Universities Journal. Abstracts from the issue can be checked out at

The specific article is titled “Developing a Typology of Branch Campuses, and it is by Phyllis Bebko and Dennis Huffman. If you are interested, you can purchase the special issue of the journal, or you can purchase this or any other individual article that interests you.

I am writing about this, because Phase 2 of this research is now available online, and I’d like to encourage anyone who sees this blog to go to the web page and submit a response. It is not necessary to have participated in the previous survey nor to consider yourself a NABCA member, in order to respond. The survey is only 15 questions long and will take very little time, especially in comparison to the benefit we will receive from a strong number of responses.

To complete the survey, simply go to You will see a link on the right side of the page that asks you to “assist our research team.” While you are on the site, you also can find information about the next conference, in Orlando, from April 11-14, 2012, and you will see a link to submit a program proposal, if you are so inclined. If you haven’t already done so, you also can click on the Facebook symbol and “like” NABCA, as another way to stay connected.

NABCA—Your full-service connection to branch campus colleagues!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Special Journal Issue on Branch Campus Topics

If you are involved with branch campuses, then you may want to know about the most recent issue of Metropolitan Universities Journal. It is Volume 22, Number 1, and it is dedicated to branch campuses. It includes ten articles on a variety of topics.

Many of the authors are friends and colleagues of mine, and I know they carry both a strong commitment to the branch mission, as well as valuable experience they chose to share. I have an article on the future of branch campuses, but others provide relevant case studies and survey results that will be helpful to readers.

Ken Shaw’s case study of issues at Florida State University-Panama City captures the challenges of branch leadership as nicely as anything I’ve seen. An article by Norton and Pickus brings attention to what I consider to be a major issue for branch campuses: having the ability to create their own course schedule, in order to meet the needs of their students, and (related) having enough budget control to assure they get those courses.

Articles by gossom and Pelton and by Bebko and Huffman, present new data on leadership and on branch characteristics. Other articles make strong contributions, and I especially like the case elements that enhance the story of branch campuses.

I don’t have space here to describe each article, but you can read the abstracts at You also will find information for subscribing to the Journal, ordering a copy of this issue, or even purchasing a copy of individual articles. Incidentally, Metropolitan Universities Journal also dedicated an issue to branch campuses about ten years ago, in Volume 12, Number 2. That issue may also be found on the web site.

One of the consistent themes for those who care about branch campuses is that we need a more developed literature on best practices, as well as more and better research that focuses on branch issues. We all owe a debt to Jack Krueger and Phyllis Bebko for their work to organize and produce this special issue.

On a much sadder note
: NABCA lost one of its founding fathers and an all around great colleague, when Hal Dengerink passed away, September 14. Hal was Chancellor-Emeritus at Washington State University-Vancouver, and he was one of the best thinkers I know about branch campus challenges. In fact, Hal wrote the lead article for the previous Metropolitan Universities Journal issue dedicated to branch campuses. Hal had a great sense of humor, a sense of fun, and a great deal of savvy. He will be missed.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Multiple Roads for Branch Campuses to Travel

I am a true believer in the value of branch campuses. I cherish the fact that branches are about expanding access and opportunity—that at their best, branch faculty tend to be focused on teaching and that branches provide strong student support and meaningful community engagement. Some branches (in fairness, some colleges and universities) deliver better than others, but for me, higher education always is about the possibilities, as well as the current reality.

This summer, among other activities, I had opportunities to visit with branches at two institutions. The first was the relatively large Downtown Campus of St. Petersburg College. St. Petersburg College was a community college that added applied baccalaureate programs in recent years, and partly as a result, the Downtown Campus has grown rapidly. The enthusiasm of the faculty and staff members I met was apparent, as we were engaged in planning for their next stage up the mountain. With their long-time director, Yvonne Ulmer, preparing to retire, the positive attitudes will serve them well.

The other visit was to Central Washington University (CWU), which is a regional comprehensive university. CWU has eight relatively small centers that are co-located with community college across a large geographic area. These centers have grown more slowly, but steadily for a number of years, led by Margaret Badgley, who also happens to be president-elect of NABCA. Although Margaret has been at CWU for quite awhile, there are a number of relatively new people in leadership roles, most of whom recognize the strategic value that comes with branch campuses, in an era of emphasis on adult learners and online education.

As I’ve written before, this can be a golden era for branches, if they embrace their mission of outreach, offer the right programs, and assure strong student support services. Blending online and face-to-face learning in thoughtful ways is essential, especially if I am correct that disruptive innovation is a powerful force in higher education. As St. Petersburg College and CWU illustrate, there are multiple roads for branches to travel, but that is part of the creative opportunity.

Along these lines, I encourage you to read the new book by Clayton M. Christensen and Henry J. Eyring, The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out. Christensen has been an important writer on disruptive innovation, and I am pleased that he has now focused specifically on higher education. His books are a treasure trove of principles that institutions would be wise to consider seriously, but, again, each institution will need to develop its own strategy.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Partnership Story for Branch Campuses

A few years ago, the dean of one of our professional colleges approached me about arranging a conversation with several community colleges, to explore creating articulation agreements. I was pleased, but also surprised, because the college had always before been a reluctant partner.

Enrollments had declined in the college, however, and reduced state support had forced the university leadership to tie budgets more closely to student credit hour production. The dean knew that my staff had built strong relationships with community colleges, so it made sense to ask us to initiate a conversation.

We arranged the meetings, and the assistant dean of the college accompanied my staff to the community college. As soon as everyone was introduced and took their seats, the assistant dean spoke up, saying, “We would like to create an articulation agreement between our programs and your institution. I reviewed your curriculum and prepared curriculum sheets to show how your program articulates with ours. You’ll see that students cannot reach the baccalaureate in just two years, but if you make the changes I’ve indicated to your existing curriculum, the fit will be better.”

The community college dean asked a few questions about course scheduling at the university, given that most of her graduates were working full time and would need to commute to the university branch for some courses, and to the main campus for certain courses and labs. She wondered about online options or the possibility of offering some courses on the community college campus. She also asked for more detail about course transfer, hoping to find a few more matches than the curriculum sheet showed.

The assistant dean patiently explained that there was no way around lab requirements, and there were no facilities available other than at the main campus for certain critical lab experiences. Faculty members, he explained, are pressed by their research expectations, so travel to the community college, or even to the university branch, just wouldn’t happen, in most cases. He did express willingness to consider offering labs on Saturdays, but he couldn’t commit.

So, the articulation agreement was created and signed, but there was virtually no increase in transfer enrollment. Those of us involved in outreach (branch campus and distance learning staff) were frustrated at the failure to use this opportunity to build another bridge. The difference between what the assistant dean viewed as “partnering” and what we considered to be an engaged partnership was critical.

When universities come to listen, community colleges feel respected and valued, as colleagues. University representatives need to demonstrate some willingness to examine assumptions about curriculum and about serving new student audiences. When community college representatives come to listen, they get a better understanding of legitimate concerns that the university folks feel, so that the university does not appear simply to be rigid or arrogant.

In an engaged partnership, institutions have the potential to design curriculum and develop services that support student success. Because their relationship grows over time, the institutions might create entirely new programs or degree options, never before considered. They might engage in co-marketing, dual admissions, and shared advising. They surely will identify hurdles and overcome them, increasing the likelihood that community college students will naturally select the partnering university to continue their education.

These partnerships are happening, and for universities, it does make a difference in attracting enrollment. But engaged partnerships require deep listening and willingness to seek common ground, in creative ways that yield high quality programs, while adjusting to the legitimate expectations of our students.

Monday, June 13, 2011

In Praise of Outreach Centers

Let us sing the praises of outreach centers! When I started this blog, I wrote about the difference between branch campuses and centers. Briefly, a campus (according to me, among others) offers complete or nearly complete programs and has a permanent facility. 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. It has a resident faculty, but curriculum control and the establishment of minimum faculty credentials come primarily from the main campus.

Not all branch campuses meet all of these criteria, but the description is typical. Outreach centers have a more restricted range of programs and services, probably do not have a resident faculty, and have a relatively small support staff to handle local operations. A center does have some sort of facility, so it is more than what we might call a “site,” but it probably is quite limited in the total space available.

Centers, as described, may be established from the main campus, but there also is the interesting phenomenon of “twigs”: outreach centers created by branch campuses, as a strategy to extend their reach. Regardless, center directors tend to have their fair share of frustrations, similar to those of branch campus leaders, and fewer human, financial, and program resources with which to pursue their mission.

I’ve had great opportunities to be part of new things, but the creation of the Ohio University Pickerington Center was one of my most satisfying. The University also has a center in Proctorville, and although I was not involved in its creation, I did have a hand in supporting the construction of its present, exceptional facility. Both of these centers are “twigs,” and both have grown nicely.

Years ago, when I became involved with NABCA, I realized that a lot of the conference attendees were associated with what I would call outreach centers. That’s great, and NABCA is a strong resource for administrators who work at both campuses and centers. However, I feel a special affinity for those who carry the load at centers.

Frankly, centers probably make more sense in the emerging world of online and hybrid programs, because they offer the advantages of a dedicated facility and staff, without some of the costs of a full-blown campus. That isn’t to say that campuses lack value, but I do think most institutions contemplating opening new branches would be wise to think about the center-campus distinction, as they develop a plan and financial model. If we think of campuses vs. centers as a continuum, there is a lot of room for creativity.

The other thing I’d say is that I often find the sort of dedication, passion, and can-do spirit in center directors that is so vital to success. So, here’s to the outreach center! Center directors should seek out one another and invest time in building bridges of mutual support. You deserve some special attention.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Engaged Partnership

Partnerships are critical to the success of any modern organization. Partners may provide certain services better and less expensively than you can manage within your own organization. Partners may also provide critical collaboration on important projects, blending their expertise with your own, to support more nimble and higher quality development.

Branch campuses absolutely need reliable partners. Internally, campuses can partner in all sorts of interesting ways, but the most critical partners probably are main campus academic units. These often-difficult relationships can work much better if the campus and the academic unit think of each other as partners.

I was fortunate to carry the title of vice president for over eight years, and I realize that position provided access and encouraged cooperation in a way that titles like campus dean or executive director may not. Regardless, I maintained that our branches would partner with any academic program, assuming we had an audience for the program, and we worked hard to meet the expectations of our partners. On the other hand, we would walk away from the table, if we were treated as if we were only a location or a service provider. (I don’t mean that we jumped up and stomped out of rooms, but that we would let the conversation rest until the other side showed more willingness to acknowledge our contributions and interests.)

My point was that branch campuses bring something important to the table and deserve to be respected as partners of the academic unit. Branch campus leaders have knowledge of the local market and how that market can most effectively be reached, as just one important example. Given escalating competition, branch campuses also should bring a level of targeted services and technical support that contributes to long-term enrollment success.

Branches also need external partners, in my opinion. I object to labeling certain contracts “vendor relationships,” when I believe they should run deeper than that. For example, in Ohio University’s distance learning programs, we established strong ties with certain companies that could bring marketing knowledge or excellent course design skills to the table. At the time, we could not create these services at the level of excellence we believed necessary, and by creating a financial partnership, instead of a typical vendor relationship, we set an expectation for collaboration that led to considerable success. I recognize that some administrators do not agree with this point of view, but I stand my ground.

Finally, I think branch campuses need external academic partners, as well. I am proud of the Community College Partnership program we built in my last few years, although that work did not directly involve our regional campuses. (I think it will, eventually, but that isn’t up to me.) We set a goal to become a “preferred partner” of certain community colleges, by engaging more deeply than simply creating articulation agreements, and it has paid off in significant, rapid enrollment growth. To my mind, the key was coming to the table as colleagues, something a lot of universities fail to do, according to community college leaders with whom we worked.

I encourage you to be thoughtful about partnerships. Choose them carefully, but also consider what it means to be a real partner and why it matters. Engaged partnerships bring substantial opportunity, but develop them selectively and strategically.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Branch Campus Opportunities

I haven’t posted on Branch Campus Life in awhile. Instead, I’ve been developing a new blog, Creating the Future, which addresses topics that could be of interest to branch campuses, but reflect my personal focus on innovation in higher education, including programs for adult learners and distance learning. You can find the new blog at You also can link to my personal web site from the blog or by clicking on this link:

I will continue to post on Branch Campus Life, from time to time, to address specific branch campus topics. I know how important it is for people on branch campuses to find others with similar experiences, as a way to identify best practices, test their own ideas, or assure themselves that they are not alone.

To that end, I want to mention the two annual conferences that support branch administrators. The first, NABCA, is coming up April 20-23, in Seattle. You can learn more at The second, the RBCA Leadership Conference will be June 19-22, on Longboat Key, FL. Information can be accessed at Most participants especially value the networking opportunities these conferences provide.

Changing directions, I’ve had a remarkable journey, the past nine months or so. Moving to my encore career provided time to read and reflect, talk with colleagues, consult, and coach. The experience reinforced my belief that there are golden opportunities for branch campuses and centers. Given the challenge of budget reductions and increased competition, more institutional leaders recognize the importance of attracting new audiences. Branch campuses are in an excellent position to combine traditional face-to-face courses with online or hybrid courses to maximize student access and flexibility.

The difficulties remain the same, of course. Leadership may want to see campuses and programs grow, but their understanding of higher education entrepreneurship is often limited and naïve. As I’ve written before, the rate of change inside most established institutions is slower than the rate of change from emerging competitors, and that also is not good. My own recent experience reinforces my belief that revenue sharing plans tend to be out of balance, if they exist at all, missing the potential energizing effect that a well-conceived plan can provide.

For branch campus leaders, I urge greater attention to the power of revenue sharing plans. If branch campus folks fail to appreciate the expectation that they will contribute to solving institutional budget challenges, or if main campus leaders get too greedy, everything else will be for naught.

Some institutions and campuses will respond creatively, and some will not. Look deeply at how you add value for prospective students, focusing on their point of view, not yours. Step up your market research, because the cost of mistakes will be higher than ever. Network and learn from colleagues’ successes and failures. This could be your time!