Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The 2016 National Association of Branch Campus Administrators Conference

The 19th meeting of the National Association of Branch Campus Administrators (NABCA) was held in Delaware last week, and as usual, it was a fine success.  The meeting was hosted by Wilmington University, with attendance approaching 100 individuals.  Special credit goes to our extraordinary executive director, joyce gilley gossum, as well as to President Faimous Harrison, Conference Chair Rebecca Burton, Vice Chair Ali Crane, and site hosts Melanie Baldwin and Tom Hurd.

The program was excellent, as we’ve come to expect.  In particular, the two keynote addresses were both entertaining and inspiring.  On Thursday, educator Scott Paine spoke on “Where the Story Begins,” and on Friday, we heard from adventurer Matt McFadyen,  “Journey to the End of the Earth.”  Neither speaker was specifically addressing branch campuses or their issues, but they gave us a lot to think about.  Good decisions by the program committee!

I continue to urge branch administrators to learn more about NABCA.  It seems that people only realize the value of associating with branch colleagues after they attend NABCA or the Regional and Branch Campus Administrators conference in June.  NABCA, specifically, provides access to helpful information through its web site,, on Facebook, and through the annual conference.  However, as I’ve said before, the greatest value may be the opportunity to meet and talk with other branch administrators, and almost any attendee will tell you that the conference is highly therapeutic!

Branch campuses represent a unique and critical delivery form of higher education, yet each institution seems to invent its own wheel, instead of taking advantage of those who have gone before.  There are best practices to be learned, and NABCA is a great place to learn them.

Being the senior attendee at NABCA these days, I feel that I should stress once again that the founders of NABCA would be immensely proud of the organization it has become.  In a world where so much seems to be random, NABCA’s founders were quite intentional about their vision for its development.  I was not a founder, but have attended for 16 of the 19 years, having first visited in 2001, I believe.  When I think of the years that I served on the executive committee, including as president, I can say that we knew where we wanted to go, and the recent leadership has taken us farther and faster than I could have imagined.  Well done!

Finally, I want to publicly (to the extent that people read this blog) thank President Harrison and the executive committee for the distinct honor of receiving the Presidential Service Award.  My time in the leadership of NABCA is long past, but it was a special experience to receive this recognition.  Thank you so much!

Once again, please consider visiting the NABCA web site, becoming a member, and attending next year’s conference in Tulsa, OK.  You won’t regret the decision, and you might make some new friends who understand your daily challenges at work.  You’ll find NABCA’s members to be friendly, concerned, helpful, and fun.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Challenges for Branch Campuses

In my last few posts I’ve emphasized the need for branch campus leaders to immerse themselves in data, studying enrollment trends in order to better understand changes that are unfolding across the country.  Recognizing trends is fundamental to effective strategic thinking.

I’ve suggested some simple ways of following trends, also urging leaders to aggressively tell the story of how their campus contributes to the local community and serves an audience that is quite distinct from those seeking either a traditional residential experience or a fully online program.  Nevertheless, despite my belief that branch campuses serve an important mission and audience, I am concerned about their future, even as I observe the creation of new branches every year.

To begin with, the continuing growth of online enrollment is bound to affect branch campuses.  Across the country, institutions struggle to maintain enrollment and balance their budgets, with the result that competition expands and intensifies, while at the same time, online opportunities pull people toward more flexible and affordable courses and programs. 

If you decide to compete for online students, remember that simply offering online options doesn’t mean that students will choose your courses or programs.  There are so many online choices to be made, and so many ways of gaining academic credit for the effort.  The growth of certificates and badges to document specific knowledge and skills may even make traditional programs less relevant.  The right program, offered at an attractive price to a targeted audience reigns supreme.

At the same time, dual enrollment opportunities for high school students are a major trend.  It seems likely that more and more young people will graduate from high school with at least a year’s worth of general education credit, having taken courses that are critical to the financial model of most institutions.

For example, I’m familiar with one university that feels nearly forced to offer college courses on high school sites, either through qualified high school teachers, for which the institution receives only $40 per credit hour, or with their own instructors, for which they receive $80 per credit hour, in either case taken from the school systems’ state support.  Although the institution can cover direct instructional costs with this income, it cannot cover the cost of support services, facilities, and traditional faculty, which could undermine the institution’s ability to maintain its core mission.

A major problem is that many institutional leaders (e.g., presidents, provosts and CFOs) do not appear to be especially strategic in thinking about how to effectively promote their various delivery options, across their main campus, branch campuses and online programs.  Just saying you want more students and more revenue is not a strategy!  And the recruitment and retention of nontraditional students cannot be accomplished effectively by simply extending practices with traditional audiences.

Finally, thinking specifically about university branches, watch the trend of offering applied baccalaureates through community colleges.  My observation is that these opportunities are not only expanding, but they are popular with students.  Hammered on one end by dual enrollment and on the other by community college baccalaureate programs, things could get tough.  On the other hand, my friends at community college branches may have some exciting growth opportunities!

Higher education is in trouble, and branch campuses should be part of the solution.  I see so many dedicated people working hard to create opportunities on their branch campuses, while key people at the main campus seem dedicated to blocking their growth.  If you want growth, then take time to learn about how it happens or give the responsibility and authority to someone who can get it done.

To be sure, outcomes won’t be the same everywhere; some campuses will thrive and some will struggle or close.  But I suggest that the greatest likelihood of success occurs when campuses take steps to understand both threats and opportunities, positioning them to drive their own future.