Northeastern University to establish system of regional campuses across the U.S.

Today, Northeastern is opening its first regional campus in Charlotte, N.C. Photo: Patrick Schneider

Advancing a model of higher education that moves “beyond the traditional boundaries of place,” Northeastern University President Joseph E. Aoun announced today that the university will launch a system of regional campuses in selected American cities. The first regional campus opens its doors today in Charlotte, N.C., and university leaders expect to open a second in Seattle, Wash., next year. The university is also actively evaluating opportunities in other cities throughout the U.S.

“The American system of higher education is going to change dramatically in the 21st century,” said Aoun. “Our existing college campuses are based on a model that we imported from England in the 17th century. This model cannot meet the full demands of contemporary society. We need to develop truly modern campuses—regional platforms for graduate education and collaborations between higher education and industry.”

Today’s launch follows two years of extensive planning and research by Northeastern officials, including a strategic decision not to offer undergraduate education at the regional campuses. Site selection of the new campuses is driven by regional demand for graduate education, and opportunities for research partnerships. In a global, knowledge-based economy, many employers require more professionals with graduate-level education, particularly in science and technology fields.

Graduate degree programs at the regional campuses will be based on a “hybrid delivery” model, which involves the integration of online and classroom learning. Existing Northeastern faculty members will teach courses both at the regional campuses and online. The hybrid learning approach is ideal for working professionals because it combines the traditional benefits of face-to-face instruction with the flexibility of online learning.

A broad range of Northeastern’s degree programs—including those in business, engineering, health sciences and computer science—will be offered in the regions. Degrees will be tailored to the demands of the local economy. In Charlotte, for example, the university will offer a master’s degree in health informatics, which aligns with the growing heath-care sector in the region. In Seattle, a master’s degree in information assurance will align with needs of the area’s many technology companies.

Similar opportunities will emerge in the sphere of research. The university is actively discussing a research collaboration with Duke Energy and Center City Partners, a Charlotte-based civic organization. The collaboration will focus on the impact of sustainability efforts within the local labor market.

Northeastern’s leadership in experiential learning—the integration of classroom study with professional experience—provides a strong foundation for the university’s expansion to new regions. Northeastern has relationships with more than 2,500 employers, including Fortune 500 companies, government agencies and global NGOs.

“These regional campuses are completely consistent with who we are as an institution,” said Aoun.

Although undergraduate education will not be offered at the regional campuses, the sites will still strengthen Northeastern’s undergraduate program, which is built on placing students in co-op positions with employers. The regional campuses will deepen relationships with current co-op employers and help to develop relationships with new employers. The sites will also serve as a local resource for undergraduates on co-op placements in a selected region.

Aoun foreshadowed Northeastern’s move in a May 2011 piece published by The Chronicle of Higher Education. “While educational models and offerings have always been diverse, the identities of institutions have typically been tightly coupled with their traditional campuses,” Aoun wrote. “Now the confluence of new technologies, changing student demands, and the emergence of a global higher-education market are quickly loosening the bonds between campus and brand.”

Founded in 1898, Northeastern is a comprehensive, global research university with more than 20,000 undergraduate and graduate students. It offers more than 90 undergraduate majors and more than 165 graduate programs, ranging from professional master’s degrees to interdisciplinary Ph.D. programs. The university’s research enterprise is aligned with three national imperatives: health, security and sustainability. Northeastern students participate in co-op and other forms of experiential learning in 85 countries on all seven continents.