Monday, December 17, 2012

Competitive Advantages for Branch Campuses

No matter how much disruption and change I see coming, I want branch campuses to thrive.  Long before I explored the concept of disruptive change, I argued that university branch campuses, at least in Ohio, had many advantages over main campuses, especially for first generation students, adult learners, and others for whom we were a good fit.  Moreover, branches offer opportunity and support that are important to many people, and they tend to engage with their communities in meaningful ways.

Today, I believe branches continue to have an important role, although exactly how it is expressed may change in significant ways.  The catch is that branches face so much more competition and risk than ever before.  As a result, I expect to see some branches go under, even as new branches are created. 

Successful branches will do a great job of market research and position themselves to serve specific audiences.  Although they will excel at service (see my earlier post), they will maintain focus on those services that clearly impact recruitment and retention.

Successful branches will be careful about space and overhead costs.  Today, branches compete with online programs and other options.  As financial models emerge that drive down tuition, spending with no demonstrable impact on student success could be fatal.  In addition, as online options become more attractive, branches will move toward emphasizing hybrid courses, in order to compete.  In fact, if all of your classes were hybrid, you could effectively double your current classroom inventory.

Led thoughtfully, branch campuses have specific advantages in relation to competitors.  Their physical presence demonstrates commitment, and many people will value the ability to stop in for any number of reasons.  Your presence won’t offset significantly higher prices or the absence of a highly desired program, but locating key staff and at least some faculty members in a community should be a plus.

No one knows exactly where higher education is headed, but I don’t believe everything will be online.  Many courses and programs will have labs or occasional residencies, and support for research, tutoring, and evaluation will continue to involve facilities, at least for most students.  I also believe that people will sometimes want to speak directly with a staff member about some issue, and we know that students benefit from personal time with faculty members. 

You may, over time, find changes in exactly how you staff for services, not to mention how you appoint resident faculty, but creative people should be able to make the case for their physical presence.  Note also that, if you are teaching online, you can just as well be located at a branch campus as the main campus or somewhere out in the ether.  Just because you can be anywhere doesn’t mean you must be at a distance.  I suggest you consider the possibility of branch campus faculty members dividing their teaching loads between local needs and online programs.  That will support maintaining a local presence while dividing the cost more widely.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Competition for Established Branch Campuses

I love competition and the challenge of growing enrollment and budgets.  I enjoy all the elements, at least as I’ve experienced them.  Marketing releases lots of creative energy, and the challenge of continuously improving institutional processes appeals to the puzzle solver in me.  I also believe that branches tend to do best when they develop strong internal and external partnerships, and partnership development has been one of my most enjoyable experiences.

In this context, I’ve been thinking about the competitive pressures faced by those branch campuses that have been around for a while.  For several generations, institutions created branch campuses as a vehicle to expand access and draw additional enrollment.  I’ve often said it is a holy mission, providing opportunity to people who otherwise would not be able to realize their educational dreams.

These branches tended to be in small cities or either in the suburbs or the downtown area of cities, depending on where the main campus was located.  For decades, the practical limits of commuting distance meant that a branch, or any other commuter campus, could recruit effectively over about a 30-mile radius.  Sometimes, branches and other institutions have overlapping circumferences, but until recently, most campuses had relatively clear service areas.

It’s not that way anymore.  At this point, I hear people talking about two challenging trends.  One is the emergence of fully online or very limited residency programs that blow away any concern about a 30-mile commuting distance.  As I’ve written before, I think branches can compete against fully online programs, but it requires adjusting some of their traditional practices.

The other challenge is more complicated to describe.  The trend seems to be that many institutions are developing outreach centers or sites that are relatively low cost, but intended to draw new enrollments to specific programs.  One example involves small private non-profits that are fighting enrollment and endowment declines and recognize the need to attract more adult learners to their institutions.  There is nothing wrong with these moves, but they definitely have gotten the attention of leaders at some more established branch campuses with whom I speak.

For all that, the greatest threat to many branch campuses will not come from other providers.  It will come from their own main campus, as the powers-that-be are attracted to the cost and efficiency of their own online programs and consider branch campuses to be an unwelcome competitor.  (In fact, branches and fully online programs can enhance each other, attracting somewhat different student markets.)  Watch your back and develop strong internal partnerships that demonstrate how you can help generate institutional revenue!

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Workshop Opportunity to Explore the Encore Stage

Please forgive me for this “brief commercial message,” which I’m posting on both of my blogs.

For the past couple of years, I have engaged in one of the most satisfying professional experiences of my life:  The exploration and pursuit of my encore career.  After “retiring” from university administration, I became a consultant and certified professional coach, while rebalancing the elements of my life to bring the renewed sense of purpose that may be the hallmark of the Baby Boomer generation.

Now, in collaboration with my fellow coaching colleague, Yvonne Ulmer, I am pleased to announce a workshop for people who seek fresh opportunities in the second half of life.  From December 6-8, in St. Petersburg, Florida, Yvonne and I invite you to share in a three-day retreat, in which you can reflect, explore and begin designing your own encore experience.

The retreat will be held at the Postcard Inn, on beautiful St. Petersburg Beach, beginning on Thursday evening, and finishing at noon, on Saturday.  You might want to come early or extend your stay, as a great pre-holiday getaway.  The fee for the workshop is only $500 and that includes two assessments that you will complete online, before you come to the retreat.

During our three days together, you will develop a personal vision of your ideal life, both professionally and personally.  You will receive feedback on your assessments and learn how your personality and individual strengths are critical elements in finding that purpose and passion that can launch you toward the future.  By the end of the three days, you will have designed that future life and created an action plan to get your started.

The intended audience is anyone who may be approaching a planned on unplanned retirement, but wants more than a life of leisure, as well as individuals who may be more nearly mid-career, but seek a change in direction.  Check out our workshop flier, at  From there, you can find links to register, reserve a room at the hotel, and see more about the backgrounds of your presenters.  Of course, if you think the workshop might be of interest to friends or co-workers, please feel free to pass along the information.  If you have questions, you can contact either Yvonne or me, and our email addresses are on the flier, as well as on our individual web sites.

If it turns out that you are more interested in a one-on-one coaching relationship, both Yvonne and I welcome new clients.  Get in touch with either of us to discuss how we work with clients to support their encore careers, professional development, or leadership challenges.

Monday, October 29, 2012

From Epic 2020: New Video on Disruption in Higher Education

Back in August, I recommended that readers take a look at a video posted online by my friend, Bill Sams.  If you haven’t watched it, check it out at  On the Epic web site, you’ll find links to other sites of interest.

In the Epic 2020 video, Sams drew on recent and current events to forecast a radically different environment for higher education, by the year 2020.  Regardless of your personal point of view, and certainly regardless of what you want the future to be, I think Sams captures trends that deserve attention.  The video has been viewed over 40,000 times, so lots of people are paying attention.

Now, Sams has posted a new video, providing a “…concise view of what has already happened.”  The video, which is a brief, Ted-type lecture, leads to the conclusion that 2012 may actually be the tipping point, following which traditional higher education will be forever changed.  Check the video at  Again, agree of disagree, but do not overlook the fact that Sams has essentially brought together a summary of current events.

My own best guess remains that we will see a variety of options for the pursuit of educational objectives.  The challenge, however, will be for individual institutions to identify a program niche, develop outstanding services, control costs, and generate enough revenue to thrive.  If an institution sticks primarily to face-to-face delivery to residential students, then I think it will be difficult to be successful.  Indeed, far too many institutions have a financial model that actually loses money on every residential student.  Without strong endowments to support the financial loss, attracting new audiences is the only hope of survival.

The strategic issues for branch campuses are only modestly different than for main campuses, because branches are more like main campuses than they are different.  Delivery and packaging options are extremely significant to diversification and the ability to respond to changing demands.

Check out the Sams videos and consider how your campus or institution will attract sufficient enrollment to stay successful.  Of course, as I’ve said before, even if traditional education does better than I think it will, attracting new audiences will support even greater success and provide better opportunities for your audience.

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Few Thoughts on Branch Campus Marketing

Early in my administrative career I became interested in marketing.  Before a new campus dean and I were appointed, the campus had drifted toward the low end of its enrollment cycle, which also contributed to a budget deficit.  I don’t remember how I moved from thinking about recruitment and retention to educating myself on marketing, but when I did, I found a natural fit for a psychologist interested in social behavior.

I don’t want to overstate my own marketing contribution, because we had staff working on marketing and advertising, and we also used a local marketing firm.  However, I did a lot of reading, and I talked with anyone I thought could help us.  I also think I brought some leadership, in terms of linking marketing with academic and other strategies.

The single most useful thing I did was to create a marketing advisory committee, including several small business executives.  These folks gave me a master class in marketing, and I’ll be forever grateful.  I think we became relatively smart about our work.  Along the way, both at Ohio State and at Ohio University, I learned some things.

First, I learned that any marketing effort should be preceded by market research and followed by assessment of its effectiveness.  Some of this work isn’t easy, but it is necessary, in order to manage limited resources.  Relying on intuition is not nearly enough to support decision-making, and I have seen many examples where habit and belief were seriously disconnected from effectiveness, especially in my consulting work.

I can’t go into detail, here, but your best marketing options depend on the most cost effective way you can reach a specific audience.  Sometimes that is through direct mail, but other times it will be online banner ads.  Sometimes, in specific situations, it may even be a billboard.  Regardless, the goal these days is to make sure the right people see your message and are drawn to your web site to learn more.  The web site should not only provide important information, but also encourage your prospects to get in touch.  Once prospects seek more information, you need a clear, reliable set of messages and follow up contacts that move them through that well-known recruiting funnel.

Second, I learned that professional marketing people are creative and have real knowledge.  In particular, they provide design skills that are well beyond the ability of most of us.  Nevertheless, you still need to reserve final approval for yourself, if you are in charge.  As the client, presumably you know how any given marketing effort relates to other elements of your enrollment strategy.

Finally, I learned that my role, as a leader, was to keep us focused on strategy and target audiences.  For example, the best of us can be drawn to the latest “sexy” ways to advertise, but thinking strategically and programmatically is essential.  Otherwise, you’ll risk spreading dollars thinly and miss the best opportunities.  Effective marketing is too rare, but it is a sweet thing, when it is done right.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Differentiating Your Campus: It's About the Students

Higher education has become intensely competitive, with a remarkable range of program options, delivered in various ways and at various prices.  In that situation, how you communicate and demonstrate what you are about makes a huge difference.  In the business world, people talk about their “value proposition”:  What is your promise to students, and how do prospective students perceive that promise?

In my last post, I argued that it is difficult to differentiate on program or price, these days.  Instead, I maintained, how people are treated becomes a critical differentiator.  My prediction is that student-centered institutions will have a competitive advantage in the years to come.

Branch campuses should do well in this environment, given that most believe that personal service is fundamental to their mission.  Unfortunately, main campus processes and attitudes can be problematic, and some branch campus staff and faculty members are less student-oriented than we’d like.  Institutional leaders who want to see enrollment growth at their branch campuses need to help fix processes and change attitudes that get in the way.

What does it mean to be student centered?  It means that your web site is contemporary and easy to navigate.  It means your staff responds quickly and personally to inquiries, then stays in touch, providing information that matters to the audience.

If you are student centered, you make it easy to apply for admission, you are “transfer friendly,” and you appreciate the significance of financial aid.  You don’t play games with extra fees that distort the real cost of attending, and you use credit for prior learning to help cut the time to graduation.  Your class schedule includes online and hybrid options, to add flexibility.  When you promise a course, you deliver that course, and you schedule it to meet student needs, not anyone else’s.

At student-centered institutions, academic advising, supported by online information, is one of the deepest commitments. Retention efforts and learning support are state of the art and targeted to student success.  It should go without saying that office hours reflect student needs, not staffing convenience or historical practice.

One more point:  If you lead an institution, you should be obsessed with data and with continuous improvement.  Student support is an investment, not an overhead expense.  You should be able to show the financial return from each area of service, and use calculated dollar values before adding more staff.  It is important to offer the right programs, with the right delivery options, and at the right price.  But increasingly, your reputation for being student-centered will be critical.

A thoughtful, comprehensive approach to improving in each of the areas I mentioned should help you communicate the value added by enrolling at your campus.  Remember, your story will be told, as much by your students on Facebook and elsewhere, as in your online banner ads.  It’s a new world, and that world will reward institutions that pay attention to service.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Branch Campus Value Propositions

From Wikipedia:  A value proposition is a promise of value to be delivered and a belief from the customer that value will be experienced.”  What is your institution’s value proposition?  Does it distinguish you from your competitors?

Take a look at some institutional web sites and surf the Internet to see what is available.  I swear it seems as if every institution in the country is offering an online criminal justice program.  Check out how many business degrees and RN to BSN completion programs are available online.  Students have many options, and as they become increasingly value conscious, it follows that you need to make sure that your messaging differentiates your institution from competitors.

Now, consider the preferences of adult learners, who are a prime recruiting target:  We know they value the program they want, delivered flexibly and at an attractive price.  We know they care about how long it will take them to earn their credential.  So, your marketing-recruiting effort should set you apart in ways that matter to the audience you want to reach.

Sometimes, that sort of differentiation is difficult for branch campuses, as well as for online programs and main campus programs intended to serve adult learners.  However, if these audiences show the greatest potential for growth, then prospects need to easily find what interests them on the front door of the institution’s web site.  Links should be prominent and intuitive. 

For branch campuses, differentiating on program or price is increasingly difficult.  Students simply have too many options.  Although you may offer popular programs and price competitively, your prospects still have many ways to go.  Perhaps they are considering a fully online program, or maybe a key competitor offers an accelerated one-course-at-a-time model that you do not.  If you do not offer credit for prior learning, prospects may view that as a time and money issue, choosing to go elsewhere.

The point is that many students today will balance the pros and cons and then make a very intentional decision based on perceived value.  If differentiation based on program or price is difficult, then how do you set yourself apart?  Increasingly, in my opinion, the difference maker will be student services.  In an era driven by social media and word of mouth, institutions that are truly student-centered will have an advantage.  In the branch context, you need somehow to persuade students that connecting with you will bring value that is harder to find, elsewhere.

Next time:  What it means to be student centered.

Monday, August 27, 2012

More on Credit for Prior Learning

I’ve written before about credit for prior learning.  Last week, Inside Higher Education had a piece about a significant partnership between 14 universities in the Pennsylvania State University System of Higher Education and the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) that will facilitate the assessment of prior learning, through CAEL’s Learning Counts service.

You can read about the initiative at  Note that, like most reputable prior learning assessment programs with which I’m familiar, it is portfolio based, and with CAEL’s strong reputation, there is no reason to doubt that prior learning can be matched to specific university courses in a reliable manner.

Understanding how credit for prior learning fits into a comprehensive strategy to serve adult learners is important.  Remember, other than flagship public institutions and elite privates, most institutions will find it impossible to balance their budgets through traditional residential programs.  Branch campuses’ stock in trade is serving adult learners and other nontraditional students, and attracting this audience is increasingly important for many small private or regional public institutions, as well.

Adult learners are extraordinarily value conscious, with cost and time to degree important elements in their value equation.  A solid enrollment management strategy should include concern for transfer-friendly practices, flexible scheduling and online options.  Credit for prior learning is an appropriate tool in this context.

I was struck by one part of the article:  “One reason many colleges are skittish about granting credits for prior learning is because to do so is to acknowledge that the academy doesn’t have a lock on college-level learning. Some faculty members also view the process warily, arguing that it can be an academically suspect money grab and a weak substitute for college.”  People who take their stand on the notion that only colleges provide college-level learning are going to find the future a very tough place to live.  Uninformed arrogance is an all-too-common weakness of the “academy.”

I do think nationally recognized standards for awarding prior learning credit would be helpful.  I’m aware of institutions that essentially give away far too much credit, with far too little documentation.  Common standards would not only increase the credibility of prior learning assessment, but it would help institutions feel more comfortable transferring such credit, as assessed elsewhere.  I hope CAEL’s effort will contribute to reliable standards.

Institutions or campuses can refuse to award prior learning credit, but if they do so, they will seriously harm their competitive position.  I congratulate CAEL and the Pennsylvania system on their partnership.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Epic 2020 and a Radical View on Change in Higher Education

At the risk of appearing to be an alarmist, I want to project an even more challenging future than I suggested in my last post.  To that end, I strongly encourage you to watch a new online video, Epic 2020, at  It was developed by a friend of mine, Bill Sams, and regardless of how you react to the message, keep in mind that it is attracting a lot of attention.  You might also read a commentary by Sams, in eCampus News, at 

Epic 2020 projects radical change in higher education, building from the effects of the so-called “student loan bubble,” unsustainable business practices at colleges and universities, and the potential power of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).  However, in my opinion, Bill’s most intriguing and provocative points relate to the emergence of alternative certifications and the argument that high quality content can/should be free to the learner.  He suggests a financial model that completes the picture many of us have wrestled over, in which revenue streams tie to a number of sources, but the cost to students for content falls to zero.

Views of the video have exceeded 20,000, as I write, and it has attracted the attention of a number of bloggers.  In my opinion, it can give you a quick perspective on how the most innovative individuals are imagining the future.

Bill would tell you that the point of the video and commentary is to provoke discussion.  Epic 2020 connects dots that already exist, and then paints a picture of a possible future.  One thing almost no institutions are doing, so far as I can tell, is systematically studying and thinking about these issues, and that is part of what makes them so vulnerable to alternative ideas.

To link all this back to branch campuses, specifically, I came across a blog post at  This particular post triggered several negative reactions in me, but I wanted to share it, because of the way it links MOOCs to the role/future of branch campuses.

Note that the post is principally about international branches of U.S. institutions.  (If you Google “branch campuses” you’ll find the term frequently used as if “branch” and “international” were synonyms.  I find that irritating.)  Nevertheless, I certainly agree that MOOCs and other online options pose a competitive challenge to branch campuses, which were themselves created to expand access and opportunity.

The place where I differ from some futurists, at least for now, relates to the future of brick and mortar institutions, including branches.  Most agree that flagships and elite, well-endowed privates will be fine.  Likewise, most predict that we will see a nearly stunning number of closures and mergers.  Still, there are powerful cultural effects operating around higher education, and the role of governments and accreditors seems unclear to me.

Regardless, it is time to take emerging ideas seriously.  As I’ve said before, that proverbial train is leaving the station.  It will soon be too late to get on board.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Some things to consider:

·      Traditional residential campuses face overwhelming deferred maintenance, to the point that the challenge may be literally insurmountable for many institutions.
·      Competing for students has produced enormous institutional debt, in order to have state-of-the-art residence halls, fitness centers, and student centers.  The cost of technology and technical support are a challenge everywhere.  Many institutions spend millions of dollars per year on athletic programs, with highly questionable return on that investment.
·      Marketing/recruiting costs grow higher, as institutions attempt to draw prospective students away from competitors.  In other words, institutions are fighting to maintain class size, in the face of a declining 18-year-old demographic.  Private nonprofits continue to increase the level of discounting, in order to fill classes.
·      People can argue about tuition and student loan bubbles, but the cost of attendance is problematic, and defenders of tuition increases offer tortured justification or blame cuts in state funding.  It doesn’t matter what the explanation is, because good alternatives are developing rapidly.
·      Administrators tend to shield faculty from financial and political realities, with the result that faculty members are understandably confused or angry, when they are told that the model no longer works, teaching loads are inadequate, or their institutions are forced to rely on lower-paid adjuncts in order to support all the items in the bullets above.

So what are the solutions?

·      Many institutions are paying closer attention to retention.  That’s a good thing.
·      Programing and services will become more focused and improve over time.  That also is a good thing.  However, this has to come from a student-centered, learning outcomes point of view and not just an attempt to reduce costs.
·      We can hope to increase the proportion of 18-year-olds who go to college, or who come to our particular institution, but the pricing/debt issues suggest that the trend will go toward attending community colleges, university branches, and online institutions.  University administrators will find it very difficult to balance a budget, without first- and second-year students.
·      We can recruit more international students, more adult learners, and (for publics) more out-of-state students.  I doubt that this will be an adequate solution, because institutions either won’t adapt their services to these audiences, losing out to more student-centered competitors, or they will find that the cost of support is excessive, given the continuing needs of their traditional audience.
·      Virtually all institutions will expand online offerings, and that could attract new enrollment.  However, the most successful online programs will be highly scalable and offered at attractive prices.  Over a few years, enrollment will tend to consolidate at some institutions and move away from others.  Quality student services will be key.

This isn’t prophecy.  It is the obvious conclusion from watching trends across the country, combined with my belief that we are in a disruptive environment, not simply a challenging phase in a funding cycle.  For those of us who genuinely care about access and opportunity, the end result may be exciting, creative, and encouraging.  To be sure, the effects of change will be different in different sectors of higher education.

If I were leading a branch campus, I’d be thinking about how to most effectively position programs and services to appeal to students for whom cost and time to degree are critical.  I’d work toward using hybrid delivery for nearly all classes.  I’d try to negotiate a revenue sharing arrangement, such that we could re-invest and expand course options, as we grow.  Well-run branches have many advantages that main campuses cannot match.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Distance Learning Administrators Conference

Last month, I had the honor and pleasure of presenting the closing keynote address at the Distance Learning Administrators Conference (DLA), sponsored by the University of West Georgia.  I am grateful to Melanie Clay for the invitation, and to Janet Gubbins, for her help and support in making things go smoothly.

This year’s conference was held on Jekyll Island, GA, a terrific location I had not visited in nearly 20 years.  You can find information about the conference and program at, and I believe they plan to use the same venue, next year.

My presentation was titled, “Challenging the Status Quo.” I argued that established institutions are especially at risk in a disruptive environment, because their assumptions, processes, and perspectives make meaningful innovation difficult to achieve.  Established institutions are built to maintain the status quo, not turn it upside down.  Incremental improvements are their strength.

Challenging the status quo requires a different mindset.  When the goal is to attract new student audiences, existing practices are nearly guaranteed to be off the mark.  For that reason, developing a unit dedicated to innovation is typically the best approach.   Innovation teams call for bringing together the right mix of talents and experience, then giving members the time and opportunity to become immersed in their projects.

If you are interested in seeing the PowerPoint slides, you can find them at  On this page, you will find titles and descriptions for all of the conference presentations. Many of the presentations have links to other documents, as well.  Scroll to the bottom of the page for the link to my slides.

I encourage my branch campus friends to consider attending DLA (in addition to attending NABCA or RBCA, of course).  Branch campus conferences these days include a lot of discussion about online/distance learning, but I found it valuable to spend time with a group specifically focused on that topic.  I continue to believe that branch campuses and online programs can strengthen one another through collaborative partnerships.  Indeed, I doubt that branches can thrive in the future, without providing online and hybrid options for their students.

Most institutions would be wise to develop a comprehensive strategy for reaching out to potential students.  Broadly, this might include a more or less traditional approach on their main/residential campus, and a hybrid approach at branch campuses to serve a broader region for which their brand is especially strong.  In that context, a focused set of fully online programs that meet the needs of those for whom maximum flexibility is the first priority, or that attract enrollment in programs that are especially distinctive or that serve a relatively unique audience, completes the strategy.

In addition to DLA, the folks at the University of West Georgia also publish The Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, which you can find at  The Journal is both interesting and free, so check it out!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Creating the Future: Investing in Those Important-Not Urgent Tasks

As a reminder, I maintain two blogs. This one primarily views the world through a branch campus lens. The other, “Creating the Future,” is broader. Generally speaking, in “Creating the Future,” I write about innovation in higher education, but I also write at a more personal level about positive psychology, well-being, strengths-based leadership, and encore careers, among other topics. It’s my playground for exploring or sharing ideas.

Recently, I published five posts on “Creating the Future,” about time management. The series grew out of my concern that many talented, well-intentioned administrators are struggling to devote time to new initiatives that may be important to the future of their institution. Too often, they seem trapped by day-to-day challenges, not to mention meetings and events that serve the needs of the existing institution, but do little to advance needed change.

I’ve been there, and I know plates can be very full. As I described in the posts, following Stephen Covey, there are essentially four types of tasks: Those that are Important-Urgent, Unimportant-Urgent, Important-Not Urgent, and Unimportant-Not Urgent.

Obviously, if you are spending time on things that are neither important nor urgent, you have issues! Important-Urgent tasks are what we might call “crises,” and they demand your time and attention. However, in this day of tight budgets and cost control through staff reduction, leaders can drown in a sea of Important-Urgent tasks, which amounts to very little real leadership, at all.

The perverse tasks are those that seem urgent, but, in fact, are unimportant. These tasks often reflect someone else’s sense of importance, and often they amount to someone trying to “delegate” a task back up to their supervisor, or someone over-reacting to a personal situation. (Just because a task is important to someone, or even to everyone, doesn’t mean that you are the person to handle it.)

Leadership, not to mention recognizing and responding to those tasks that are critical for innovation, requires that people spend as much time as practical in the area of Important-Not Urgent items. These are the tasks that are not “hot-hot” right now, so they are easy to push aside, thinking there will be time for them later. It is seductive, can lead people to believe they are doing good things, and can completely rob your institution of an opportunity to thrive in a time of disruptive change.

The point is not that leaders should ignore emergencies or refuse to help someone with a challenge they are facing. However, it is essential to protect time to invest in innovation, because that is where real leadership opportunities lie.

I hope that readers of “Branch Campus Life” will consider checking out “Creating the Future.” You can find it at You might find it worth following!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Branch Campus Article: Pruning the Branches

Today's (May 31, 2012) daily update from Inside Higher Ed has a lead article on branch campuses. There are interesting points in the article, but there also is the suggestion that many universities are moving away from offering programs at branch campuses or are focusing their programs at the graduate level. There are a few comments after the article, including one from me. Note that the title of the article suggests "pruning," not necessarily cutting down the entire tree.

You can access the article at: You may have to copy and paste the address.

As indicated in my comment, my own impression is that many branch campuses are growing, and at least some presidents expect to see greater enrollment growth at branch campuses than at their main campuses. In my opinion, branches need to be aggressive about shifting toward hybrid delivery of their programs, and I believe it will be most sensible to form strong partnerships between branches and whatever unit at the institution develops and delivers fully online programs.

Some institutions may, indeed, find it wise to focus on graduate programs, whether online or at branches, and there certainly are ongoing discussions/arguments regarding which programs should be offered at branch campuses. However, I don't see the evidence that there is any broad move to cut back programs or close down campuses. Unfortunately, there is no data base to which we can turn to know for sure.

The article only refers to two institutions, both located in Boston. Both are fine schools, with successful online programs. One of them, Northeastern University, also is pursuing a relatively unusual strategy of developing new branch campuses in locations that are far from Boston. (A campus has opened in Charlotte, NC, and one has been announced for Seattle, WA.) The other institution, Boston University, has no such plans. Take a look at the Northeastern story, because it is both interesting and well-thought-out, in my opinion. (I've mentioned before that I do some work with Northeastern, so draw your own conclusions about their strategy.)

It appears to me that the "contraction" in the Boston area has had more to do with cutting back on what branch folks would call sites, not true campuses. That change might make sense, given online and hybrid options, but I still believe there is a place for a regional strategy that includes a physical presence, as well as increased reliance on technology.

Give the article a look, and see what you think.