Published on 2013/11/26
Five Critical Elements Institutions Need to Take a Program Off-Campus
Creating a program or a satellite center off-campus requires more than funding; it takes buy-in from all stakeholders.
In an era of decreased traditional student enrollments and constrained budgets in higher education, universities are looking for ways to reach new audiences. One way to serve new markets is through off-campus programming. There are five critical steps an institution must take to succeed in off-campus programming. They make up the who, where, what, how and why of win-win relationships.

1. Strong Partnerships that Stand the Test of Time

Generally, this partnership is with an educational center (another university, community college or public secondary educational facility) or a business. Careful consideration prior to entering this partnership is key. Stakeholders and influencers come and go. New management may not champion the mission previously established. It is critical to design the partnership so it’s a win-win relationship for both parties. A strong memorandum of understanding (MOU) is essential. This MOU should be revisited from time to time to ensure relevance and feasibility. Over time, a strong partnership may benefit both parties where co-branding and joint marketing enhance visibility and enrollments.

2. Location, Location, Location

Feasibility studies, environmental scans and regional demands will help to select the appropriate off-campus location. Urban centers can provide new and diverse student populations. Conversely, more rural settings can suffer from a lack of access to higher education programs and there is a pent-up, unmet need. Keep in mind, also, that working adults are looking for convenience and flexibility in educational programs.

3. Institutional Support

Campus buy-in is another key ingredient. It’s essential for all stakeholders (from the president and provost to student and administrative support staff) to see the value of — and the opportunities in — an additional campus location. Lack of visibility can create administrative, faculty and/or staff conflicts in resource allocation and ownership of duties, stemming from the very nature of being off-campus. When administration decides on policies and procedures, it must take into account the differing needs at the off-campus site. University accreditation demands that the off-campus programming have the same quality of support the on-campus programs receive.

For successful off-campus experiences for all, faculty must be aware that, for the life of that program, there must be sustained investment. Factors to keep in mind may be travel time, evening or weekend commitments, advising time, ability to connect students to appropriate support services and knowledge of a variety of instructional technologies. To balance faculty commitment off-campus, incentives to faculty and departments are critical. Incentives may include a separate pay scale, course development stipend, technology-supported course pay and altruistic rewards in terms of reaching new student populations or teaching a course outside of the faculty menu of on-campus classes. Support staff must be able to provide appropriate and timely service to off-campus students. There must be thoughtful conversations with all stakeholders about the reality and duration of off-campus programs and the relationship commitment.

4. Logistical Support

Logistical support requires an institutional investment with considerations around staffing, hours of operation, security, access, support services, instructional technology supports, niche recruiting, scheduling, communications, proctoring and couriering fully accommodated. A dedicated staff member must serve as the off-campus liaison to the off-site facility to ensure success. This staff member should have high visibility and be the face of the university at the off-campus location. This connection to the university can help with student retention over time.

5. A Forward-Looking Vision

What will program needs be in five years? Off-campus programs exist to meet the demands of a changing workforce, ever increasingly diverse student populations and/or a new experimental launch of a program. Regional needs change over time. Some programs may saturate the market while others may fall from favor. Competition may influence the decisions around current and future offerings. Institutions must be forward thinking in an ever-changing time of technology-driven programming. Costly investments to accommodate these changing needs require reassessment of institutional needs in bringing timely and needed programs to off-site locations. Listen to your students, regional employers and your off-campus partners in addressing changing needs to ensure successful off-campus programming.

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Readers Comments

WA Anderson 2013/11/26 at 9:12 am

A thoughtful piece by Callaghan. I would have liked if she had further expanded on how to create partnerships that “stand the test of time.” I agree that MOUs have to be built to outlast individual signatories, but some detail on the architecture of these memoranda would be helpful.

For example, what happens if there is a change in the administration and there ceases to be support for a partnership?

Rhonda White 2013/11/26 at 3:54 pm

I could not agree more with Callaghan’s assessment that location considerations are key. When my institution was scouting locations for our off-campus programming (we wanted to lease), we talked a lot about “green space” that we envisioned our students congregating in. Once we had confirmed the location and brought students in, we realized they didn’t care whether the satellite campus had a quad because most of them, as working adults, spent very little time on campus. In addition, we were in a city with well-established park infrastructure. In our earnest desire to provide the same level and quality of service in our satellite site as on our main campus, we failed to properly consider what the satellite site was being used for. I think we were too focused on replicating the experience of our main campus on our satellite site, even when that wasn’t necessary. A costly lesson.

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