I feel as if I should offer an end-of-the-year post, but I don’t see a lot of change in the past twelve months that would affect what I wrote last year. (See http://branchcampus.blogspot.com/2014/11/a-few-end-of-year-thoughts-on-branch.html and http://branchcampus.blogspot.com/2014/12/a-few-more-end-of-year-thoughts-about.html)
I do have a couple of suggestions for people interested in branch campuses. First, in the past I wrote about immersing yourself in data. It is only by digging into the information available to you that you can confidently identify trends. It is equally important to take a “macro” view of things that are happening broadly, so that you can see the bigger picture beyond your own situation.
If you are looking for that macro perspective, you might consider using Google Alerts. I have an alert for “branch campus,” and nearly every afternoon I get an email with one or more hits from the Internet that mention a branch campus. Most of the alerts are of little or no significance to me, but some fill in information that I wouldn’t have received from the daily electronic newsletters that I receive.
Sometimes I see a newspaper story about a branch campus served by a member of NABCA. That’s always entertaining, and if a friend is mentioned, I may shoot off an email of congratulations. In other cases I may learn about plans, or at least ambitions, for a new branch campus, or perhaps I read about plans to expand programs on an existing campus. Google Alerts doesn’t pick up everything, because my own posts show up sometimes, but not consistently.
Scanning the environment on topics that interest me, including branch campuses, has always been an important tool. It’s a great way to discover ideas, for one thing, and it keeps me from being too focused on more narrow local concerns. Newsletters, personal contacts, and Google Alerts all help with that.
Of course, scanning doesn’t replace the need for good research, but it does create impressions. When I wrote recently about my concern that institutional leaders do not appreciate the full strategic potential of their branch campuses, that view came from my own experience, reinforced by what I read and discuss with others.
Here’s something that my scanning suggests, at least to me: Even though I am concerned about the mission of existing branches being undermined by both external competition and short-sighted internal decisions, I also see that there is a surprising number of new branches being established in the United States. Many of these new branches seem to have a narrow, focused mission, but others look like more established campuses, intended to serve a region that needs better access to higher education. Interesting, especially in a time when most of the conversation is about online education.
My second suggestion is that you attend NABCA next April (see www.nabca.net). The opportunity to interact with others who work on branch campuses and to attend a wide range of presentations during the conference sessions is invaluable. My major point is that branches often appear to exist in isolation from one another, and they do, in fact, come in a wide range of forms and missions. Often I meet people who tell me that they feel very alone in their work. Attending NABCA, combined with seeking out the research that is available, dwelling in the campus data that are available to you, and continually scanning the environment can go a long ways toward appreciating that your own branch campus is surely part of something bigger.
My third suggestion is more personal: If you haven’t seen or read my book, Out on a Limb: A Branch Campus life, please check it out. It’s available on Amazon, in both electronic and print form. Feedback has been very positive, and you might find it to be helpful. You might even want to buy several copies to share with co-workers. Again, just a suggestion.