Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Building Branch Campus and Online Program Enrollment

I maintain two blogs. The older, “Branch Campus Life,” focuses on topics related to branch campuses of colleges and universities; the newer, “Creating the Future,” explores a wider range of topics related to my interest in innovation, positive psychology, and encore careers. Links to both blogs can be found on my web site,

For the first time, I want to post the same entry on both blogs. This is not something I expect to do very often, but I’d like to offer a few summary thoughts about building enrollment in online programs and on branch campuses. I see a close relationship between the two, in terms of objectives and challenges.

First, although institutions have many reasons for supporting branch campuses and online programs, the most important, by far, is that they expand access and opportunity for otherwise underserved audiences. I believe in the value of education and the significance of personal dreams. Branches and online programs have enormous potential, still only partially realized, in that regard.

Second, these initiatives have the potential to generate significant revenue for institutions, in a time of disruptive change. If they want to compete and thrive, most institutions should pay attention to their branch campuses and to the development of online options.

Third, to compete successfully, leaders of online and branch strategy need to understand and accept that the majority of their students care more about the cost of their education and the time it will take to earn their credential than anything else. Individuals may have additional or more personal goals, but the audience served by branches and online programs is pragmatic. Institutions will generate more revenue in the long run, if they understand the need to help students get to their goals more quickly and at less cost.

Fourth, I believe it makes sense for most institutions to create a strong link between their online programs and their branch campuses. Some institutions may not pursue both, but branch campuses will struggle unless they offer online and hybrid options to their students.

Fifth, as a consultant, I find it surprising that most institutions have poor financial models for their branch campuses, and sometimes for their online programs. Get revenue sharing right, or you will not create the necessary incentives to motivate deans, chairs, and administrative offices to support outreach.

Sixth, people need to understand what a deep, engaged partnership means. Building strong, mutually beneficial relationships with other institutions, with employers, and with other units in your own institution is absolutely essential. (I mention it, because most people I meet do not understand deep, engaged partnership.)

Finally, a point specific to online programs: Online programs only make financial sense if they are scalable. There are solid, high quality approaches for online delivery that make it possible to enroll hundreds, or even thousands of students in the same course. At scale, the cost of course development and the cost of instruction approach zero, and the greatest share of operating expenses lie with marketing/recruitment and student support services.

All of these points have been addressed over time in both of my blogs. These programs matter, because the students matter and because, to thrive in the future, most institutions need to attract enrollment through flexible, student-centered options. Please, just think about it.

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