Five Critical Elements Institutions Need to Take a Program Off-CampusCarolyn Callaghan | Executive Director of Educational Outreach, Western Carolina University
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.
Author Perspective: Administrator