Northeastern University’s expansion into Seattle is noteworthy, chiefly for its potential to broaden the pipeline of local talent in science, technology, engineering and math fields.
A branch campus thousands of miles from Northeastern’s Boston roots is an astute read of this area’s labor needs.
The private, nonprofit university’s plan to offer only graduate-degree programs in Seattle fills a niche for industries looking for employees with advanced degrees. The Puget Sound region has one of the largest concentrations of residents with bachelor’s degrees, but only 13 percent of local professionals have graduate degrees.
This region does not measure up well against the rest of the country. In 2008, Washington ranked 42nd among all states in advanced-degree production — 8.4 graduate degrees per 1,000 residents. But the national average is 12.8 such degrees per 1,000 residents.
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Northeastern opens its doors in the Lake Union neighborhood in January, offering programs in tech-related industries — for example, cyber security, digital media and engineering. Classes will be online and on-site.
The school is positioning itself well here by tapping Tayloe Washburn, a respected business leader and past chair of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, to head up the branch campus. Washburn has already committed Northeastern to local efforts strengthening the links between K-12 and higher education.
Northeastern President Joseph Aoun pledges to find ways to team with the University of Washington and Washington State University, for example, on academic research projects, but also in advocating for higher education. Working with this state’s educational institutions, rather than competing against them, is key.
Northeastern is just the latest institution expanding its reach either online or by adding branch campuses.
The hope is recent arrivals, such as Northeastern and before it Western Governors University, play a large role in this region’s effort to meet the evolving higher-education needs of students and industry.
The better these institutions do, the less likely students are to turn to for-profit institutions that tend to be expensive and have low graduation rates, such as the University of Phoenix. Indeed, Phoenix cites a marked decline in enrollment for a decision to shutter 115 sites, including main campuses and smaller learning centers. Good.