Northeastern University Diving Into Distance and Satellite Campus Education

Northeastern University has long been well-known in the New England area for its educational approach, having students spend a hefty amount of time in the workplace to meet degree requirements. Now, that school is branching out from the New England area to make its mark in the Southeast as well. In addition, if that move pans out, they’ll tackle the Northwest and South next.

The university is opening its first satellite campus in Charlotte, N.C., taking a page from the popular for-profit practice of establishing multiple campuses across the country. The school plans to offer specialized master’s degrees specifically tailored to the Charlotte population, such as cybersecurity, project management, and health informatics, according to an article published in the New York Times. These programs directly correlate with the labor needs and projections of the city. If Northeastern University proceeds with its plans to open more campuses in Austin, Tex. and Seattle next year, those campuses will also offer programs specifically tailored to the labor and industry needs of their respective cities.

But unlike the satellite campuses of most for-profit schools that hire teachers from local areas as well as remote teachers based any and everywhere to teach at those campuses, Northeastern University’s Boston campus plans to remain the home base for all professors and instructors. In fact, within the past five years, the school has hired 261 tenured and tenure-track professors, the New York Times article noted — all of whom are based in Boston. Northeastern plans to add 200 more in the next three years as well. Students at the school’s Charlotte satellite campus will participate in virtual learning, with the Boston professors moderating the classroom, as well as classroom-based learning for occasions when the professors fly in to teach in Charlotte. Students will also pay the same tuition as those attending Northeastern’s Boston campus.

But Northeastern’s decision to open a satellite campus rather than just focus on expanding distance learning programs has not been without its skeptics. "To work your way into a new community, where you’re not very well known, you’ve got to be there at least 10 years and build all those relationships," John Fry, Drexel University’s president, told the New York Times. Drexel also has experience with satellite campuses, opening up a Sacramento campus in 2009. The Pittsburg-based university has since run into issues with too-low enrollment and is still struggling.

But Northeastern remains optimistic. It had already conducted extensive research into satellite campus locations and picked Charlotte as a good place to open its doors because of the city’s growing economy, low number of graduate degree holders, and population of ex-Northeasterners who would undoubtedly recognize the Northeastern University name. The satellite campus will allow the school to adapt to the changing climate of higher education, allowing it to expand into distance-based learning, but without completely sacrificing the traditional model of classroom and campus-based education.

"Bill Gates says place is going to matter less and less for universities in the future, but I think that’s wrong," Joseph Aoun, Northeastern’s president, told the New York Times. "I think a successful university has to be part of a community."

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