Northeastern University opened a graduate campus in Charlotte, N.C., on Monday, the first step in a far-reaching plan to expand across the country, form research partnerships within cities, and take advantage of regional needs for specialized workers.
In its pursuit of a new, more entrepreneurial model of higher education, the private Boston institution plans to break out of the private-research-university mold and open up shop at satellite campuses around the country, including California's Silicon Valley; Austin, Tex.; Minneapolis; and Seattle. The university hopes to open the Seattle campus next year.
But Northeastern's growth plan isn't a typical expansion, in which a university duplicates little versions of itself in other cities. President Joseph E. Aoun said in an interview on Monday that when Northeastern opens a satellite campus, it won't provide just teaching but, through research affiliations with local industry leaders and nongovernmental organizations, will become part of the city.
"When we move to a city, we're making a commitment to the place and establishing a partnership," Mr. Aoun said.
The campuses will deliver a hybrid model of education with both online and in-class learning, and with Boston-based professors often flying out to teach at the satellites.
With that in mind, Northeastern embarked on a vast recruiting effort for faculty members at a time when other universities were scaling back. Northeastern hired 261 new tenured faculty members in the last five years, and seeks to hire a total of 300. The university put an initial $60-million in the project, mostly to hire new faculty.
The university will employ academic advisers, career advising support, administrative staff, and a regional dean on each satellite campus.
"The most important aspect is that we are exacting in our human resources, namely in recruiting the faculty," Mr. Aoun said. "That's the only way we can drive this vision that's focused on two pillars—knowledge delivery and research discovery."
Degrees Tailored to Local Needs
The satellite campuses will draw on a number of Northeastern's degree programs, including those in business, engineering, health sciences and computer science, depending on the needs of the local economy. In Charlotte, for example, the university will offer a master's degree in health informatics, to align with the region's growing heath-care sector. In Seattle, it plans to offer a master's degree in information assurance that will serve the needs of technology companies.
The expansion plan has been in the works for two years, and even though that period includes an economic recession, Northeastern has doubled its research funds, drawn record enrollments, and increased private donations during that time. The regional campuses won't drown Northeastern in overhead costs, either, officials say. Because they will serve graduate students and use online learning, the university won't have to provide dormitories and other costly facilities that a residential undergraduate campus would require.
Mr. Aoun said Northeastern isn't worried about competition from for-profit institutions because the satellite campuses' hybrid-education model and research-partnership offerings will be hard to match.
Northeastern went to great lengths to ensure that a satellite campus would be a welcome sight in its targeted regions, interviewing hundreds of local leaders—from health professionals and industry executives to the Chamber of Commerce.
"Many of these cities have a demographic for the adult learner that is high and increasing," said Philomena Mantella, Northeastern's senior vice president for enrollment management and student affairs. "And at the graduate level, the options and offerings are limited. The capacity needs to be built."
That's unlike Boston, a city with 80 institutions of higher education withinin a 25-mile radius, Ms. Mantella said.
She said the best way to mitigate the risk of building satellite campuses was to do the homework upfront, to have a deep understanding of the region, and "not presume to know what we believe a new region would need."