Spread of College Satellite Campuses Takes the Local out of Learning ; Universities Aim to Match Student Bodies, Courses of Study and Job Markets

By Lewin, Tamar | International Herald Tribune, January 2, 2012 | Go to article overview

Spread of College Satellite Campuses Takes the Local out of Learning ; Universities Aim to Match Student Bodies, Courses of Study and Job Markets


Lewin, Tamar, International Herald Tribune


Satellite campuses are the latest trend as an explosion of online institutions and for-profit career colleges changes the view that universiites need to be universities deeply enmeshed in one community.

After a century firmly anchored in Boston, Northeastern University is branching out -- becoming Southeastern, Northwestern and perhaps Western and Midwestern as well.

The university, known for its co-op program in which undergraduates spend significant amounts of time in the workplace, opened its first satellite campus this autumn in Charlotte, North Carolina, and is planning a second in Seattle next year; outposts in Austin, Texas, Minnesota and Silicon Valley are under discussion.

The goal is to offer master's degrees in industries like cybersecurity, health informatics and project management, matching programs with each city's industries and labor needs, through a mix of virtual learning and fly-ins from professors based in Boston. Tuition will be the same as at the main campus.

While higher education has long been seen as a local enterprise, with universities deeply enmeshed in their communities, the explosion of online institutions, particularly for-profit career colleges like the University of Phoenix and the Education Management Corporation, has changed that dynamic. Northeastern, which is spending $60 million to support the expansion, is perhaps the most ambitious of a handful of brick-and-mortar institutions looking to broaden their footprint in new markets and with new methods of instruction.

"This is a time of huge transition in an industry that hasn't changed much since the Middle Ages," said Charles P. Bird, a former vice president of Ohio University who helped develop the institution's online offerings and now works as a consultant. "Higher education is going from traditional face-to-face delivery, and the unexamined assumption that that is good, to thinking about delivering a high-quality online experience, whether fully online or hybrid."

Northeastern has hired 261 tenured and tenure-track professors in the past five years, about twice as many as in the previous five, and plans to add 200 more in the next three years, all of whom will be based at the home campus in Boston.

"There's been a real knowledge explosion that has created new industries with new needs for expertise," said Joseph E. Aoun, the university's president. "We don't want to make the mistake the railways did. They didn't think of themselves as being broadly in the transportation industry, so they missed the opportunity to build air travel. We're in the business of higher education, and where there's a new space, we want to step in."

Until recently, most universities looking to expand have gone overseas, starting branches in regions where American-style higher education is a huge draw: first in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, where oil revenues have paid for elaborate buildings and hefty bonuses for U.S. faculty members, and more recently in China and Singapore.

But Cornell University just won an international competition to build a $2 billion graduate school of applied sciences on Roosevelt Island in New York City in partnership with Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. Last month, Emerson College in Boston announced plans for an academic center in Los Angeles. And the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania offers its weekend executive M.B.A. program in San Francisco as well as in Philadelphia.

Andrew Delbanco, a Columbia University professor who writes about higher education, said such expansions were "symptomatic of the significant anxiety by institutions at all levels of higher education about their sustainability."

Some experts are skeptical that an institution entering new territory can compete with the existing local colleges and universities.

"If I were looking to move into a new region," said Mark G. Yudof, president of the University of California, "I would prefer to partner with someone who knows and understands that market and already has a name brand there. …

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