Branch and Regional Campuses are an essential part of the higher education landscape, yet anyone seeking information on best practices or emerging ideas in the field will find few resources that can help. Now, after more than 35years as a branch campus faculty member, administrator, and consultant, Dr. Charles Bird offers lessons from his experience to support those who are committed to expanding opportunities for place-bound student and other who prefer to attend a local branch campus rather than relocating, commuting, or enrolling in a fully online program.
Whether you are relatively new to branch campuses or have been around for a long time, this engaging and informal presentation will surely offer encouragement, a few challenges to inside-the-box thinking, and examples of both successful and unsuccessful branch practices. If you recognize the potential for enrollment growth at your own branch campuses, or if you happen to be considering the establishment of a new campus, Out on a Limb is a book you will want to keep handy and refer to often.
Excerpts from Out on a Limb, Chapter 2. Going Deeper: Why Branch Campuses Matter
At least for someone like me, who has invested much of his career in branch campuses, the purpose of branches also has a strong emotional element. These campuses matter, and far too many people, both on main campuses and branch campuses, fail to understand adequately why many branches thrive and how they make a difference. As a result, institutions may not fully exploit the strategic potential of branches. Even if the primary interest of the main campus is to use branches as a cash cow, it behooves leaders to understand what works and what does not.
Some of the strategic importance of branches should be obvious. They offer access to higher education, usually with flexible scheduling and relatively small classes. Most branch campus instructors are highly committed to teaching, ahead of whatever scholarly interests they may maintain. Staff tend to wear multiple hats and to work in physical proximity to each other, so administrative departments do not have the sense of separateness that one finds in more highly departmentalized situations—with the result that students are less likely to be passed from one office to another.
The real drama of branch campuses, in my opinion, lies in the personal stories told by their students. Sure, some students attend a branch because they lack the motivation to do anything else. However, I’ve seen audiences reduced to tears by students telling stories about how their lives were turned around because of access to the education provided by the local branch campus. These powerful stories can serve an institution’s leadership well if they are used to illustrate not only how the institution is engaged with employers and communities but also how the institution achieves the goals of trustees and state-level policy makers.
Keeping human and financial resources focused often produces stronger financial results, as well, which may serve broader purposes of the institution. In fact, I’d argue that part of determining whether a branch campus is needed should be demonstrating that it can fully cover its costs and help support institutional priorities. In my opinion, it is fundamental that demonstrating need implies demonstrating enrollment and net revenue that make the good investment obvious.
Branch campuses, then, serve a variety of purposes for institutions, including the noble commitments we all celebrate. The purposes served may not be a high priority to everyone on the faculty or in the administration, but the leadership definitely ought to get it. Well-placed and well-supported branch campuses can become one of the most valuable assets of a higher education institution.