In Seattle, Virtual University Will Have a Physical Campus, Too

Ann McClure's picture
Wednesday, October 31, 2012

With name tags clipped on and PowerPoint at the ready, officials from Northeastern University invited prospective students in one night last week for a peek at a new extension campus, 2,500 miles from the school’s home in Boston and about as far northwest as you can get in the lower 48 without swim fins. It is a trend that many colleges and universities have embraced in recent years — remote campuses to extend the brand and the flow of tuition checks.

But there was more going on here. And all the new dean, J. Tayloe Washburn, had to do to demonstrate that was walk to the bank of windows in the meeting room where the prospects and the staff had congregated and throw wide his arms: the headquarters buildings of the tech giant Amazon.com filled the view under a gray Seattle mist.

“We’re very aware we’ll be sitting across the street from 12,000 Amazon workers,” said Mr. Washburn, a prominent Seattle lawyer and former chairman of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce.

Remember the notion that technology would destroy the idea of place, creating work forces of telecommuters and disembodied companies — or universities, for that matter — that were no longer anchored anywhere because they did not have to be? Turns out to have been entirely wrong, say Northeastern officials, who are enthused over what they see as a post-recession technology boom in the making in places like Seattle, and one where postgraduate science and technology workers are in particularly short supply.

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