Who's on first, and what, exactly, do they need to do? What needs to be done by whom at each institution to successfully implement and sustain an inter-institutional program? What needs to be done centrally? In an inter-institutional program, what are the roles and responsibilities of faculty members, academic deans and department heads, administrators and support staff? Inter-institutional programs require the performance of new and different tasks. Who will do them?
The Great Plains IDEA has evolved from a collegial group of Human Sciences academic administrators who share a common interest in educating rural professionals through the use of distance technologies and shared courses to its current status as a premier post-baccalaureate distance education alliance that provides inter-institutional master's degrees and graduate certificates and develops policy and practice models for inter-institutional distance education programs.
Alliance building is an intellectually and emotionally intense endeavor of great complexity. Each partner is required to give a little with the hope of getting a lot. However, because of the nature of academic institutions, when academic deans form alliances, they make work for other functional areas of the institutions they represent. For instance, although deans can provide the administrative and financial support to the faculty who develop and teach inter-institutional programs, they cannot price the programs without getting buy-in from the financial officer of the university. They cannot "transcript" the course grades without buy-in from the registrar. They cannot apply graduate courses taught by non-institutional faculty to graduate programs of study without buy-in from graduate faculty leaders and administrators.
The buy-in and commitment of key individuals are crucial. When these key individuals meet face-to-face with their inter-institutional peers, magic can happen. "Impossible" may become an incorrect assumption. A solution-seeking team environment must be created. Teams should not only look for the common denominator among institutional practices, but also the best institutional practices. In a face-to-face meeting of respected colleagues committed to a common goal, seldom does someone want to say it can't be done.