Capitalizing with a branch campus
Brown, L. Michelle S.
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The purpose of this case study is to examine the strategic aspects of the decision by Gainesville State College (GSC) to launch a branch campus in Oconee County, as well as what can be learned from the experience toward improving practice. GSC, an institution within the University System of Georgia, reflects the trend across higher education of pursuing strategies intended to position institutions to attract greater resources, often through increasing prestige. While not explicitly launching a campus to realize increased revenues, GSC has capitalized on a location favorable to producing impressive enrollments. Subsequently, increased revenues allowed GSC to pursue other ambitious initiatives, such as adding additional baccalaureate degrees, positioning the institution for greater prestige with moving to state college status. Historically linked to the purpose of increasing access, branch campuses have increasingly served more entrepreneurial purposes for institutions across types during a market-oriented era of higher education. A fundamental shift away from state funding of public higher education has contributed to the need to pursue alternative streams, and colleges and universities are increasingly relying upon funding from student tuition and fees. Branch campuses, strategically located, allow colleges and universities to target student markets, contributing to financial viability significant to institutional aspirations. However, higher education institutions encounter a challenge, balancing market forces with public purpose. Combining interviews with 11 senior faculty and administrators with an extensive document review, I found that GSC, facing increasing competition and less stability in resources, responded entrepreneurially by launching the branch campus in Oconee County. Compelled to pursue the opportunity amid a number of risks, GSC benefitted strategically from the branch, favorably positioning the institution to support its aspirations. However, the branch concurrently challenged GSC and its traditional access mission. Finally, I suggest seven implications for practice related to launching a branch campus. Recommendations include institutional attention related to the following organizational dimensions when launching a branch campus—emphasizing mission; building resources; committing to planning; valuing culture; clarifying organizational relationships and branch mission; addressing needs peculiar to the branch; and establishing community support.