Friday, January 25, 2013

Staying on Top of Developments in Higher Education

I start most days by checking email and reading/scanning various newsletters.  I work from what I like to think is a holistic, almost intuitive sense of direction, and that seems to require immersion in information.  I wish I did a better job of retaining specific sources and details, but at this point in my life I’m going to roll with my strengths and not worry too much about my deficits.  (That’s a shout-out to all my strengths-based leadership friends!)

I realize that most people lack the time to invest that I do in exploring ideas, whether through reading online newsletters, networking, or otherwise pursuing new developments.  I hope to provide a brief series of posts, here, to capture a few key elements, as I think they might relate to administrators at branch campuses or other small public and private institutions.

I recommend that anyone interested in emerging change subscribe to at least two online resources that I check out every day.  The first is Inside Higher Ed, which I find more valuable to administrators than The Chronicle of Higher Education, although I do subscribe to it, as well. 

You can check out Inside Higher Ed at, and subscriptions to the Daily Update are free.  Inside Higher Ed also supports some useful groups on LinkedIn, and the Update includes a number of interesting bloggers.  My favorite blog is called “Confessions of a Community College Dean.

Just today, the Update had an interesting story on MOOCs and one that covers a recent study suggesting that there is very little connection between what an institution spends on students and the quality of the education they receive.  There also is an interview with Randy Best, CEO of Academic Partnerships, which just announced a new initiative, called MOOC2Degree.  It is an interesting new idea for awarding credit and attracting students to enroll in online degree programs.

Academic Partnerships is a company that works with public universities to create and market relatively large online programs.  I worked with them, when I was at Ohio University, and, although the partnership was challenging to manage, it also was instructive and successful in attractive several thousand students to our online RN to BSN program.  Randy is innovative, entertaining, and frequently controversial.  The Q and A definitely helps explain the MOOC2Degree initiative.

The second resource is the “Professional, Continuing and Online Education Update by UPCEA,” which is at  It typically provides links to three articles, usually related to online learning.  Some of them can be quite thought-provoking, such as one today, titled, “The End of the University as We Know It,” by Nathan Harden, for the American Interest.  It is long, but makes an interesting argument.  (The particular piece is at

Anyone who hopes to understand and compete effectively in the emerging new world of higher education needs to invest at least a little time in studying trends.  I hope this blog is of help to those in the branch campus world, which can be part of a thoughtful institutional strategy, but also will be challenged to adapt to the educational and potential financial advantages of online options.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Revisiting "Characteristics of Branch Campuses"

By far the most read post on this blog is titled Characteristics of Branch Campuses, and it was posted July 11, 2007.  If you want to read it, you can find it at  Be warned:  When I first started posting, I wrote some relatively long entries.

One of the challenges in writing about branch campuses, never mind building a base of research on branches, is the lack of clear definitions or a shared understanding of what makes something a branch.  My piece on “characteristics” was an attempt to describe what I called an “idealized” branch, but there are many, many variations across the country.

A few days ago, I saw a list of “10 Satellite Campuses With Impressive Reputations All Their Own” on a site called  (  I’m familiar with nearly all of these campuses, and there are interesting stories all around.  But calling some of them “branches” seems a stretch.

For example, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis is on the list, and I would insist that it is not a branch campus, by any reasonable definition.  It enrolls 30,000 students, in more than 200 programs, through 21 schools and academic units, according to its web site.  Similarly, they list the University of Michigan-Flint as a branch; they list another “campus” that is fully digital (hardly distinctive today), and still another that is a summer abroad study center, located in Europe.

I also have a complaint about all the attention recently to elite universities opening overseas branches.  Well, it isn’t the attention so much as the impression some articles leave that “international branch” and “branch” are synonyms.  I’m definitely interested in the trend, as well as the challenges and opportunities they create, but I’ve found many of the stories misleading about the branch world.

My bottom line on this is that the need for good research and shared vocabulary about branch campuses grows stronger all the time.  Fortunately, NABCA has been encouraging more research, and that work has progressed well from year to year.  Once we can agree on the defining characteristics of branches and begin to get a handle on best practices, maybe the critical contributions they make to higher education can be better appreciated. 

I maintain that branches are a unique delivery form of higher education, with some specific advantages for important populations.  Yet, the lack of connection and awareness of just how pervasive “satellite” operations really are is not helpful to encouraging branch development and growth.  I’m not worried about, but I am concerned about helping branch campuses do well.