Continuing to share from my personal experiences, I’ve been fortunate to visit a wide range of branch campuses both across the United States and internationally (Hong Kong, Russia, Mexico and Canada). Some of the domestic visits tied to meetings of NABCA or RBCA, whereas others were consulting jobs, mostly over the last five years.
The consulting work shaped my understanding and opinions more than I expected. In the absence of a substantial literature or research that identifies best practices, institutions developed branches for their own reasons at varying times in their history. Every institution I visited had a unique story to tell. There were common themes, of course, such as struggling to bring programs from the main campus, wrestling with interference from certain main campus offices that think they know more about the branch audience than the people who work there, and making sure that courses and class schedules actually meet student needs.
On the other hand, I’ve been impressed by the way branch leaders manage to get things done in the service of their access mission. Financial arrangements, partnerships of various sorts, and persistent advocacy often produce remarkable results, even if the organizational structure or institutional politics throw up one barrier after another. Good job, I say.
The challenges faced by small enrollment branches, with, say, 300-500 students, as well as the way an enrollment of several thousand students changes how a branch operates intrigue me. At every stop I’ve met people who wear more hats than is fair, with job descriptions from the main campus that don’t begin to describe their days. I’ve learned about unique strategies developed by campuses that deserve to be shared with other institutions. I’ve also talked with students who are passionate advocates for their campus and community leaders who cannot understand why a program needed in their town can’t be delivered at their local branch.
My experiences are necessarily anecdotal, I suppose, and they may help explain why it is so difficult to do good research that is not simply descriptive. I started this blog mostly as a way to share my thoughts and experiences, and my book, Out on a Limb: A Branch Campus Life was an attempt to organize those thoughts and experiences in a way that might be useful to others who want and need to know that they are not alone.
The future of branch campuses can and should be bright. I worry that institutional leaders won’t understand the distinctive characteristics of this unique delivery form of higher education that serves audiences in different ways than a traditional campus. Branches have an important role to play, in combination with online programs and traditional residential campuses, with each meeting a different need, but contributing meaningfully to the institution’s bottom line. If I can be of help, please let me know.