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Identity crisis: Considering regional campus autonomy

University officials push for progress at regional campuses

Miami University is re-evaluating its relationship with regional campuses in Hamilton and Middletown. The goal is to allow both schools enough autonomy to further develop their four-year degree programs and build their own identities.

In 1966, Miami spearheaded the creation of regional campuses in Ohio with the establishment of Miami University in Middletown (MUM), and in 1968, Miami's campus in Hamilton (MUH).

Originally, these regional campuses were intended to allow students with specific economic and circumstantial limitations the opportunity to take college courses. Then, after earning an associate degree from a regional campus, students could choose whether to go on and complete a four-year degree in Oxford.

A few years ago, however, this dynamic was significantly reconstructed.

"In 2008, this situation changed quite dramatically," President David Hodge said during Friday's Board of Trustees meeting at Marcum Conference Center. "Change that we welcomed."

The change Hodge spoke of was in regards to the degree programs offered on Miami's regional campuses - they would be moving away from two-year degrees, leaving that task to community colleges, and begin offering four-year degrees, as instructed by the state.

Dean of Miami's regional campuses Michael Pratt said that in the first few years following this change, several decisions were made to alter the status quo. First, the Hamilton and Middletown campuses, which had previously operated independently of each other, came together under a single regional campus dean.

Then, the two schools had to actually create bachelor degree programs.

"The next step was to develop a new college, a new division, to house and build academic degrees on regional campuses," Pratt said. The answer was the College of Professional Studies and Applied Sciences (CPSAS).

The CPSAS offers degrees students would not find on Miami's Oxford campus, such as justice and community studies, engineering technology and nursing.

The university recognizes that regional campuses, though an integral part of Miami University and thus deeply related to the Oxford campus, market to an entirely different student population and offer an entirely different university experience, Pratt said.

"Regional campuses are open access institutions," he said. "That means we pretty much have to admit anyone that applies, provided they have a high school [diploma] or GED. The regional campuses are not selective like the Oxford campus is."

The regional campuses also have notably lower tuition rates, which reaches out to a wider group of potential students, Pratt said. Their goal is to reach students interested in higher education but perhaps lacking certain means to attain a typical, residential university experience.

The problem with all of this, however, is that the shift from two-year to four-year degrees has moved much slower than expected.

"There had to be some structural changes to do this," Pratt said. "Things have not moved as quickly as we had hoped, we haven't built as many degrees as we had hoped."

Today, the regional campuses offer eight associate degrees - compared to community colleges across the country boasting hundreds - and only seven bachelor degrees, significantly fewer than most of Ohio's regional campuses.

Though Miami has been working with this issue since the conversation began in 2008, Hodge said several studies have indicated that a different approach might be the answer.

"Those studies, and an earlier one, attempted to recognize the changing higher education landscape and the need to provide more flexibility for the regionals," he said.

In June of this year, Miami began to explore the setup of Indiana University (IU) and one of its regional campuses, IU-East. A team evaluated the model in place at IU-East and considered how it might succeed or fail if implemented with Miami and its regional campuses, then made recommendations as to how Miami could move forward with this knowledge.

While the IU-East model is well established and successfully run, it may have certain weaknesses if placed in the context of Miami's regionals.

"There are some things in the report that look like they could easily be implemented [at Miami], but there are other parts that don't fit very well," Pratt said. "IU and its regional campuses have historically operated very differently than Miami and its regional campuses. For instance, because [Miami's] campuses are so close together, students and faculty have been able to move around freely. At IU, you can't do that."

To continue this investigation and gather information from other models, Hodge has announced that he will be appointing a task force in the coming weeks.

Ultimately, Pratt said the university intends to adopt some of the ideas they find throughout this researching process.

"The primary goals are to provide much more comprehensive (baccalaureate) offerings on the regional campuses with a more distinct identity separate from Oxford," Hodge said, "though still very much within the Miami umbrella."

Photo by Emily Tate | The Miami Student