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    Northeastern U: The start of a new SLU U-District?

    An import graduate school is moving in to fill the technical and engineering jobs Washington's graduate programs can't.
    Northeastern University's Seattle Graduate Campus opened Jan. 17, 2013.

    Northeastern University's Seattle Graduate Campus opened Jan. 17, 2013. Photo: Benjamin Benschneider

    Seattle Dean & CEO Tayloe Washburn with Northeastern University President Joseph Aoun.

    Seattle Dean & CEO Tayloe Washburn with Northeastern University President Joseph Aoun. Photo: Northeastern University.

    For a state that lags far behind the rest of the nation in the production of science and engineering graduates, Northeastern University’s entry into Washington’s higher education marketplace should be welcome news. Some in the field though, worry the Boston-based school’s arrival might give Washingtonians a false sense of security about the future of higher education.

    The private research university opened its Seattle satellite campus last month in South Lake Union. The campus occupies a sleek warren of offices nestled in a building it shares with the Institute for Systems Biology. (ISB's president is former University of Washington professor of molecular biotechnology Leroy Hood.) Nearby, Amazon, the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation loom as pillars of Seattle’s growing medical and technological locus.  

    Northeastern University President Joseph E. Aoun believes the Seattle campus is helping to reshape higher education in the region. “We spent two years assessing the needs of the Seattle community and met with higher education, civic and business leaders. We want to establish long-term roots and become part of the fabric of this region,” he said during a visit to Seattle last week.

    Northeastern is known primarily for its cooperative education program, where students integrate academic studies with six-month periods of professional work experience. Through a hybrid online and face-to-face education model, the school’s new campus will offer 28 masters degrees in an array of fields: bioinformatics, computer science, engineering management and commerce and economic development. It will also offer four doctoral programs in education, law and policy, nursing practice and physical therapy.

    Northeastern Seattle Campus CEO and Dean Tayloe Washburn sees the new campus as an opportunity to tap into the state’s growing need for a highly educated workforce. “Our local businesses are technology-based. Northeastern’s targeted students are 28-45 years old and working professionals in all STEM fields. … As a region, we are surprisingly low in graduate programs for these people.”

    Washburn, a former Seattle land-use attorney, chairs the Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA) workforce development task force and served as Gov. Christine Gregoire’s point person for the Boeing 737 retention initiative. “WTIA decided in 2012 that providing the needed workforce required by our tech companies of all types was a top strategic initiative,” said Washburn.  

    That conclusion was borne out earlier by a Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board report in 2011, which documented the need for increased production of graduate degrees in fields such as computer science, engineering, health occupations, and life sciences. The report underscored the goal of decreasing the state’s dependence on imported talent and providing greater job opportunities for Washington State residents.

    Local leaders weigh in

    Many Seattle business leaders share Aoun’s optimism, viewing Northeastern’s arrival as a boon to the Puget Sound region’s economy — especially its surging information technology sector. 

    Steve Leahy, former Seattle Chamber president and Washington State Director of America’s Edge is one of them. “There’s more room for graduate programs that focus on high-demand career fields in science and technology,” he said. “We’re trying to grow those clusters and need as many resources as possible to meet industry demand.”

    “My feeling is that we are creating a new University District of Downtown,” said Seattle City Councilmember Richard Conlin. “A number of private colleges are relocating themselves to be proximate to the employers and employees who might use them, and this is a good thing.”

    “Local companies need highly-skilled and educated folks. There is a big gap between our region’s workforce needs and available skilled employees,” echoed Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce president Maud Daudon. “Northeastern has a laser focus on that gap. They did their homework and talked to all the stakeholders, and they’ve been warmly received.”

    Warm may be the key word there.

    Among state education leaders, opinions are more varied. Ed Lazowska, the University of Washington’s Bill & Melinda Gates Chair of Computer Science & Engineering, is positive about the opportunities Northeastern will provide, but sounds a cautionary note. “There’s no doubt about the fact that Washington state is educationally underserved. We rank in the bottom half of the states in science and engineering bachelors degrees relative to our population, and 46th in science and engineering graduate program enrollment. So any additional high-quality education opportunities, such as those that Northeastern will provide are welcome and needed.” 

    “I do worry that citizens and policymakers will mistakenly believe that Northeastern is a Santa Claus that will solve our educational capacity problems,” he continued. “We need to prepare Washington’s students for Washington jobs. While it’s good for our tech industry that a greater number of Northeastern’s Boston students are likely to seek employment in Seattle, what about our kids?”

    That conundrum is not lost on University of Washington Provost Ana Mari Cauce. Though she applauds Northeastern’s presence here in Seattle, she laments the state’s shrinking higher education budget, which keeps Washington’s public universities perennially cash-strapped.

    “Applications to the UW are at an all-time high,” she explains, “and this is especially the case in the engineering and tech fields. Northeastern is here not because our ‘product’ isn’t excellent or because the demand for it isn’t incredibly high, but because it’s so high that we can’t meet it.”

    Cauce sees Northeastern’s entry into the education marketplace as a big red flag; one that points to the irony of state funding and restrictions around higher-ed. On the one hand, she says, Washington is unwilling or unable to fund the expansion of UW’s tech and engineering programs. On the other, tuition for these programs is capped, preventing the university itself from funding its own growth.   

    Still, many, like Washington State University President Elson Floyd don't put that responsibility on Northeastern's shoulders. "They will offer different opportunities at different price points. The more options our learners have, the better off we are as a state. Washington State University and the University of Washington are committed to producing as many graduates in STEM professions as we can. Northeastern as an additional partner is a good thing for Washington state.

    A smart business move

    There’s no denying that opening a Seattle branch is a smart business move for the Boston-based university. One they’re likely to replicate elsewhere. Since Northeastern opened its first satellite campus in Charlotte, N.C. in the fall of 2011, it has spent $60 million to expand its national footprint.  The university is eyeing future prospects for campuses in Austin, TX, Minnesota and the Silicon Valley.

    At the Seattle campus, there are currently forty-two enrolled students, but Washburn expects to see strong growth in that number pretty quickly. “I would not be surprised if in ten years, we approached 1,000 students.”

    And tuition is competitive. Graduate-level degrees range from $24,000 through the upper $30,000 and the MBA degree is more than $60,000. Washburn is quick to point out that these costs are for the entire program – not just a year’s tuition.

    “In many areas,” he said, “the degree cost for a brick-and-mortar private nonprofit research university is, in fact, less than other excellent programs in our state.”

    It’s not clear how many of those students will be local, but at least some will likely be Northeastern undergraduates from Boston. “It will … increase the placement of Northeastern’s Boston undergraduates in co-op and internship positions with Seattle tech companies, and those students will be more likely to take permanent jobs here when they graduate,” Lazowska says.

    Aoun and Washburn believe that strong partnerships with local research centers like the Institute for Systems Biology, the University of Washington and Seattle University are a win-win for the region and Northeastern. The Seattle campus plans to work closely with UW President Michael Young and Seattle University President Stephen Sundborg to explore further opportunities for collaboration, Washburn said.

    Educational leaders like Cauce agree, pointing out that Northeastern’s presence is healthy for competition in the region. “The UW has no problem with competition. We have extremely strong, nationally-ranked programs in Engineering and Technology at an extremely good price point, even with the recent high increases in tuition that are a result of state cuts.”

    “We don’t see them as ‘stealing’ students from us, but rather as serving students we can’t accommodate,” she added. “And besides, competition can be very healthy. Berkeley is stronger because of Stanford’s proximity.”

    Collin Tong is a correspondent for Crosscut and University Outlook magazine. He served as guest lecturer at the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. His new book, "Into the Storm: Journeys with Alzheimer’s," will be published in January 2014.

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    Posted Tue, Feb 19, 12:40 p.m. Inappropriate

    Do the interns get payed, or is this "school" designed to provide free workers to corporations? Also, we do not need a branch of a Boston school which wishes to insert Boston citizens into positions in Washington State. Northeastern seems to be nothing but a new-fangled University of Phoenix.

    Further, the tech promoters are getting disgusting. There is nothing exciting or wonderful about these corporations, and most only exist because of subsidy. It seems more like a bunch of self-identified elites patting each other on the back. I guess, patting-each-other-on-the-back is a good way to score more subsidy.


    Posted Fri, Mar 8, 10:22 a.m. Inappropriate

    JHande nails it. We do need additional Universities in Western Washington, not another University of Phoenix. I actually did an Honor's Thesis on this very subject, in Massachusetts, in the late 80's, about the time the Mass Miracle, Dukakis, and Lotus were busting, all progressive advancements along the lines of Apple, and at least one of same the victim of a Washington State Corporate/Legal conspiracy.

    Northeastern University never appeared in my research as any sort of leader in STEM, at that time. Mass's success in technical fields can be attributed to three letters, MIT, with only a few exceptions.

    In hindsight it is most likely that the elites of the likes of Washburn and crew were in fact responsible for that **first** politically related tech crash - in part through their own failings, in part through Wall Street folks who pander to same.

    Of the highest concern should be the techniques utilized by these individuals - techniques that Washburn himself has practiced here in Seattle - specifically the manipulation of the cycle of sexual and racial hate in order to control public and private enterprises - a most disgusting level of evil that is NOT based on being victim themselves.

    Mega Fail, as is the entire corporate empire of the 21st Century, and these folks need to be brought to account. And, hey, if we do it right I bet there will be enough left over to start the Puget Sound equivalent of Stanford....

    Posted Tue, Feb 19, 1:23 p.m. Inappropriate

    jhande: Perhaps you could do 10 seconds of research before dashing off a totally uninformed, xenophobic and ignorant post. So I'll help:

    * Northeastern co-op students are paid, and must work at a job in their field. It's a terrific program, and it has made it possible for a lot of working-class kids to get a solid education.

    * Northeastern was established in 1898. It is a long-established Boston institution with 20,000 undergrad and graduate students. It is anything but "a new-fangled University of Phoenix."

    The fact is, this state is sadly lacking in higher education opportunities. So if a respected private institution decides to fill that gap more power to them.


    Posted Tue, Feb 19, 2:26 p.m. Inappropriate

    Interns may get a stipend; but interns are not payed. I also do not see many "working class kids" paying 24,000-40,000 dollars a year; and are the "targeted students" of 28-45 really "working class kids"? No.

    The article says that the "University" sees these franchised branches as good "business"; and is opening up new franchises around the nation. That is exactly like University of Phoenix, which also wishes to have a national "footprint". So, you may respect this "University"; but I don't. This seems an attempt to make profit and that is all.

    Oh, and I will research, and find out what tax breaks, subsidy, and other goodies this "University" gets.

    Further, the use of the term "xenophobia" is thrown around so much in an incorrect manner, that it is simply meaningless.


    Posted Wed, Feb 20, 3:23 p.m. Inappropriate

    The Crosscut article on the new Northeastern campus in the SLU neighborhood makes the point that there is a generally recognized gap in higher education opportunities in our state and, in the Puget Sound region in particular.

    On a sheer numbers basis, our burgeoning technically trained talent is currently imported from outside of Pugetopolis - people who were educated elsewhere and have migrated here to work in the aerospace, computer technology, e-marketing or bioscience industries. One might take exception that there is a problem by pointing to the fact that two out of four of the country’s ten wealthiest technology entrepreneurs that reside in the Seattle area were born here (Bill Gates and Paul Allen). But I will point out that none of the four (also including Steve Balmer and Jeff Bezos) attended University here. At least two of these four didn’t bother to finish college, but even they found it necessary to go to college near Boston in order to become restless rather than simply cross Portage Bay consumed with Husky Fever.

    Our region has the luxury of having an unparalleled natural attractant of Puget Sound, the Cascade and Olympic Mountains, Pacific Ocean and the deserts of Eastern Washington all within view or a relatively short drive of the Seattle area. Companies locate here knowing they have a competitive advantage in recruiting the moment a prospective hire sees Mount Rainier out the plane’s window on approach to SeaTac. Given this, we better take care of the natural world here, as it is our secret weapon in the global economy, but that is the topic for another comment to another article.

    Back to Northeastern University, nearly everyone interviewed for this article recognized that our local academic capacity is far below needs, and falling further behind every day. When I left the region with two shinny new diplomas from the UW in 1982 and moved out of state to seek my future as an Oceanographer, there were three notable institutes of higher learning in Seattle. When I returned nearly 14 years later, there were... still three notable institutes of higher learning.

    After doing a tour of the country that included the Gulf Coast and the Washington D.C. area, I became accustomed to a highly defined academic choice structure and hierarchy that starts in Montessori school and hopefully ends with an invitation to one or more prestigious, and usually private, Universities. In the east, public school is for wimps. Driven in part by need – the major public university system so prevalent in the west did not exist when many of these schools were started – in part by current demand, and in part by good marketing, there are a lot of colleges and universities to choose from in that region.

    Nowhere is this more evident than in the Boston area, where there is something like 35 colleges and universities. Higher education is an industry in and of itself there (and now apparently an export commodity). These institutions create an environment of intellectual risk taking and a community of bright young people that is fertile ground for incubating new ideas and businesses. I do not have the facts at my finger tips, but I seem to recall the number of startups generated in Boston exceeds those in Seattle (but not the San Francisco Bay area where they have sun, culture, and no humidity) and I would suggest that many of those Boston area startups are directly or indirectly related to the proximity of so many institutes of higher learning.

    So my question is this, can Seattle’s natural environment and current string of business successes compete in the long run with Boston’s academic infrastructure, or the Bay area’s critical mass of intellectual talent in terms remaining on the cutting edge of technology and entrepreneurship? The University of Washington’s C4C program is an attempt to increase their relevance and direct contributions to the economic health and viability of region. I suggest we need far more than this, and that the public higher education system, ultimately controlled as it is by a diverse, contentious and stingy legislature, is ill equipped to provide the kind of academic training and leadership our region, people and the times deserve.

    Fast forward 17 years from my return to the region, and over 30 years from my original departure, and we now have only three major institutes of higher education in Seattle proper for undergraduate training. It can be argued that the state has increased its investment starting two new college campuses in Bothell and Tacoma, but I suggest this was a belated response to demographics, not a strategic investment in the region by offering an elite or endowed institution that can compete for top raw academic talent that will foster the new ideas, innovations and businesses of future with the highest profile campuses in the country or the world. The new Northeastern SLU campus is clearly an attempt to help fill this need.

    When I arrived back in the Northwest and reflected on the state of higher ed. compared with other parts of the country, I thought wouldn’t it be great if Bill Gates and Paul Allen (or Steve Balmer or Jeff Bezos) left a legacy here, similar to the legacies left by the extremely wealthy of different eras in east and mid west, by starting academic institutions that bared their names? Let’s say Gates Institute of Technology in Bellevue, or Allen (or Vulcan?) University in South Seattle (or SLU!), where the passions of these individuals could be expressed and played out in the imaginations of future generations of bright young people from the neighborhood, the region, or all over the world, and providing human resources and spark for continued global leadership in technology, business, art, and thought.

    Posted Thu, Feb 21, 10:29 a.m. Inappropriate

    Well, well said and an interesting idea. As an aside, population density, an extra 200 hundred years of development (and endowment), inner city rot, and historic segregation all play significant and obvious rolls in the development of the traditional East Coast path to higher education, though those lines are becoming more blurred all the time in many cities, or at least in many outlying suburbs. Obviously the Northwest is comparatively merely a teenager which in many ways makes the carving of new pathways that much more possible. But I'm not sure it is practical to rely on a few whales to solve these perceived deficiencies. On the other hand, isn't Bezos due?


    Posted Thu, Feb 21, 6:42 p.m. Inappropriate

    Oh damn, I meant "roles," not rolls. Apparently I shouldn't write on an empty stomach. So much for that East Coast private prep school education.


    Posted Fri, Feb 22, 9:06 a.m. Inappropriate

    And it was announced this week that Stanford is the first university to raise over $1 Billion dollars in one year, most of it from alumni. UW will take a very long time to reach that goal from alumni. Big private resources could kick off an elite research and education institution like that here. But once momentum is built, it is self sustaining and nearly immune to self inflicted wounds from Olympia. Silicon Valley is the place Stanford built. Redmond is the place Mount Rainier and Puget Sound built (with help from Paul, Bill and a host of others - many who went to Stanford!) Wouldn't it be great to have both great public and private institutions of higher learning here? Talk about trickle down... I'm just sayin.

    Posted Fri, Feb 22, 9:45 p.m. Inappropriate

    Be careful what you wish for; educational institutions, including large publics like UW, are part of the oligarchy and don't give a sh*t about the their neighborhoods. As if Allentown is a neighborhood. Cf. http://gothamist.com/2012/06/06/nyus_still_massive_expansion_gets_c.php http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/26/nyregion/new-york-city-sued-over-approval-of-nyu-expansion-plan.html?_r=0 http://neighbors.columbia.edu/pages/manplanning/ http://philadelphianeighborhoods.com/2012/12/04/powelton-village-university-expansion-destroys-a-community/ http://www.neontommy.com/news/2012/12/usc-university-village-neighborhood-advocates-sought-20-million-fund-soften-blow-commun and so on


    Posted Mon, Feb 25, 9:15 a.m. Inappropriate

    Ha! Unless you have any idea about NYC, Robert Moses, and super block Universities, don't throw in articles those NYC articles.

    Those universities were put in districts that were blight and had dwindling futures. Each University (NYU, Fordham LC, Columbia, etc...) has helped transform the areas the currently reside in.


    Posted Tue, Feb 26, 1:26 p.m. Inappropriate

    I know NYC and much of its history, and I know the history of Columbia very well (I'm an alum) and NYU fairly well. NYU was never in a "blighted" neighborhood (Washington Square, Greenwich Village). Columbia has encroached on Harlem over the years, but its base on Morningside Heights was never "blighted" either. "Dwindling futures" is a ludicrous claim for either locale at any point in time.

    I did not cite Fordham, the Jesuit university; a quick search turns up its own expansion plans at the Lincoln Center campus. Another blighted neighborhood? I don't think so: http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/08/fordham-slams-gate-to-litigious-neighbors/

    If you want to challenge my knowledge of obnoxious development behavior you should try one of the non-NYC examples.


    Posted Mon, Feb 25, 9:22 a.m. Inappropriate

    As pointed out by numerous people including those at UW, the Seattle area lacks the research and graduate level education needed to research and create new technologies and advance current ones.

    There are so many truly gifted young adults that are having to leave the area for Standford, MIT, CIT, etc... because UW simply cannot (legally or fiscally according to outspoken professors) meet the quality demand.

    That is the reason NeU targeted Seattle AND Charlotte for these graduate campuses. Seattle is not Boston, nor is it San Fran, and is possibly going to be bested by NYC, Charlotte, or maybe another city if something doesn't change.


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