Four years after Northeastern University of Boston opened a satellite campus in Seattle, the college’s western enrollment is growing rapidly.
When Boston’s Northeastern University opened a satellite campus in Seattle in January 2013, some wondered why a private Boston university would stake a claim clear across the country.
Four years after its founding, Northeastern-Seattle appears to have staying power. The college has seen a 40 percent enrollment growth each year, and this year has nearly 600 students. It has expanded its office space in South Lake Union to a second building, and is looking for more nearby.
It also has a new dean, Scott McKinley, who replaced founding dean Tayloe Washburn — a well-known Seattle attorney who is now semiretired.
And it has started a new program, unique to the Seattle campus of Northeastern, that helps students with a non-tech-related bachelor’s degree to move into a computer science master’s program in just two semesters.
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The program, called ALIGN, is a “catchup, a slingshot,” McKinley said. The fast-paced courses allow students with any kind of bachelor’s — whether in English literature or philosophy, to name two examples — to be ready to start a master’s of computer science degree program after two semesters.
“We’re running 50 percent female participation in that program — that’s awesome, that’s three times the national average for women in computing,” he said. The program this year has 96 students, and costs about $65,000.
The master’s in computer science is one of the most popular degree programs at Northeastern-Seattle, and students who finish the two-year program typically make about $113,000 a year. They’ll also do a paid internship for six months as part of the program — an internship that typically pays about $55,000.
McKinley said ALIGN addresses a specific weakness in Seattle’s workforce needs — not enough computer science graduates.
Who goes to school at Northeastern-Seattle?
With the exception of its eight-week data analytics boot camp, all of the university’s programs are graduate degrees — either master’s or doctoral — and a large concentration of them are in computer science or related tech fields, McKinley said. Half the 600 students are international students, and many come from some of the top universities in China and India, including Tsinghua and Peking universities, both in Beijing.
About a third of the U.S. students who attend Northeastern-Seattle have a degree from the University of Washington, he said. Often, they seek out Northeastern because they’re looking to do their graduate work with a different university.
Northeastern offers both in-person and a hybrid online degree, in which students take some portion of their classes online and the rest face-to-face. The South Lake Union campus, with its high-tech classrooms, looks more like the headquarters of a tech company, and has videoconferencing equipment in nearly every classroom.
McKinley said he thinks Northeastern has succeeded here because the university has invested “millions of dollars” (he declined to give a precise number) in the Seattle program, picked the right location (right across the street from one of Amazon’s many buildings) and chose its first dean well.
A native of Pennsylvania, McKinley spent much of his career overseas — he founded and managed JP Morgan Partners’ Asia Pacific operations from 1993 to 1998 — and went into education as a second career. He thinks he can bring ideas and innovations from the corporate world into the education sector.
“Education is this huge market space, and most of the entrenched, traditional players aren’t geared up to be innovate, to be nimble and agile and super responsive to market’s needs,” he said.
As an educator, he describes himself as “the person who is brought in to figure out how to close the gap between what the industry really needs and what is typically produced out of higher education.”
For example, he’s interested in exploring whether the knowledge learned in a computer coding boot camp could be translated into credits earned toward a degree.
“Northeastern is very open-minded to thinking about education differently,” he said.