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Why the Multi-Campus Model Works

By: Shawn Cruz and Michael Del Bono

In 2012, Wilfrid Laurier University administration approved the implementation of a multi-campus approach. Since its implementation, there is a stronger link between Laurier’s Waterloo and Brantford campuses. This approach shared by both university administration and the Students’ Union fosters a greater sense of community between campuses while embracing and articulating the differences between them. We recognize that the campuses’ strengths complement each other and the multi-campus approach strengthens Laurier’s value as a comprehensive university.

In the satellite-campus model, campuses in different locations are treated as distinct from one another. Prior to Laurier’s adoption of the multi-campus model in 2012, the Brantford campus had a single dean for the entire campus which often resulted in students not receiving the specialized help needed for their program. Under the multi-campus structure, faculty-specific deans were introduced on all campuses, enhancing the quality of education that all students received.

Locating campuses in different geographical regions increase access to education for more students, while maintaining the quality of education. Students may be limited in what university they choose to attend due to financial or accessibility reasons, like the high cost of rent or the inability to commute from home. The existence of several campuses in varied locations enhances student choice. Prospective students have more opportunities to choose the Laurier experience, and the flexibility to attend whichever location is most convenient for them. Not only does a multi-campus structure allow for this freedom, but it also ensures that students enjoy comparable non-academic benefits and educational quality regardless of location.

Although multi-campus university systems are not new, they continue to be an ever-growing contemporary approach to higher education. As discussed, with the more traditional satellite campus model universities would identify the main campus, where the institution’s flagship programs are most prominently featured. In a multi-campus system, each campus has their own flagship programs, often differentiated by field, whether its business, science, social sciences, or the humanities. When prospective students are deciding on what programs to pursue, they’re often limited to specific universities, depending on whether or not their preferred institution offers the education and experience that they are looking for. Depending on the program, the student may be forced to choose between schools that they cannot or do not want to attend, perhaps for financial or personal reasons. With a multi-campus university, this decision can be much less stressful as prospective students have more flexibility with program choice and campus location.

Michael was one of those students, stressed and concerned about what his options would be coming out of high school. While he was exploring the Criminology programs that Ontario universities had to offer, he had originally scratched Laurier off of his list, believing that the institution’s focus was on business, music, and sciences. As a university that is consistent in attaining praise for its student satisfaction and education quality, it was a pleasant surprise to hear about their multi-campus model. After doing additional research, he learned that the Laurier Brantford campus offered a focus on social sciences, with criminology being a flagship program. Michael knew that he could study at the Brantford campus and receive the same support as a Waterloo student. Not only did this discovery make the decision that much easier, but it also inspired him to think about all of the academic options he would have at Laurier. There was significant appeal in the opportunity to study criminology in Brantford, while also have the flexibility to also take courses on the Waterloo campus that weren’t otherwise available. Yes, Michael’s studying Criminology at a social sciences-focused campus, but what if he also wanted to learn about business, kinesiology, political science, and other disciplines at the same time? While this is what drew Michael and many of his peers to Laurier, it was the culture and community that guaranteed his enjoyment and personal growth.

Laurier’s Brantford and Waterloo campuses have their own unique charm, but that flair doesn’t come at the cost of academics or campus life. The multi-campus approach recognizes the importance of academic rigor and student experience at all campuses, and the significance of providing each student the same opportunities. Treating campuses as equals means that a degree from one campus is not more favourable than the other. A degree from Brantford has no distinguishing markings from a degree from Waterloo, and vice versa.  The Laurier name confers the same level of prestige for all students, regardless of home campus.

From the perspective of a student organization, there are challenges to the multi-campus model. Although we do our best to ensure the same services are available at Brantford and Waterloo, slightly different campus cultures require us to adjust our programming and services. For instance, Foot Patrol, our undergraduate walk-home service, has different operating hours in Brantford to reflect the level of demand at the commuter-heavy campus. Concerts in Waterloo have brought hip hop artists in recent years to reflect that campus’ general interest in the genre. We maintain the same general cohesive theme in our programming and marketing, but small cultural features are what make each campus special.

The Laurier Brantford campus is much smaller in size and student population compared to other universities in Ontario, but its community and culture are deeply ingrained with Laurier as a whole. Michael learned this when he attended the university spirit and volunteering events on both campuses. To celebrate homecoming in Brantford with our hockey team, and then shortly after, be in Waterloo celebrating homecoming with our football team, was an exciting atmosphere to be a part of. All the while, Michael never felt lost or astray, even being from an entirely different campus, because he was often reminded that, at Laurier, you’re a Golden Hawk, regardless of where you study.

Ultimately, multi-campus universities are an asset to students and we hope that other institutions also embrace the multi-campus model and encourage greater cohesion between their distinct campuses.