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Assessing the Impact of Northeastern’s Move to Toronto

The EvoLLLution | Assessing the Impact of Northeastern’s Move to Toronto
The process of launching an international branch campus is an arduous and expensive one, so institutions need to be assured that the programs they plan to launch have a market and will be successful.

Northeastern University has taken a very unique approach to the branch campus model of expansion by opening branch campuses in other US cities specifically designed to serve the unique needs of employers in those areas. With a branch campus already in Seattle, Charlotte and Silicon Valley, the university recently announced that it was going international with its next campus. In 2016, Northeastern will be opening a new campus in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). They are the first such institution to gain approval to offer multiple degree programs in Ontario—of which Toronto is the capital—without a local education partner. In this interview, Rick Miner shares his thoughts on the impact such a campus will have on Toronto’s postsecondary marketplace.

How will Northeastern’s move to open a campus in Toronto impact the city’s higher education market?

In the short term it’s probably not going to have a big impact largely because you’re only looking at three programs, all of which are online, with a fairly small projected enrollment. All these programs are graduate-level programs and they’re in high demand so they’ll get noticed and there will be a buzz in the community.

Because of its size, though, I don’t think it’s going to have a huge impact. The programs are graduate-level so even though you have programs in some of these colleges, they are mostly baccalaureate programs and postgraduate certificates. They’re not quite the same market and it’s not quite the same competition.

Right now, when programs are submitted for review by the province, one of the elements in that review process is a supply/demand analysis in terms of whether the program meets the demands of industry.

It’s a little less clear in the long term what the impact will be because this is the first fully independent university outside Canada that has moved into the GTA market.

What will it take for Northeastern to really establish a foothold and gain market share in this already competitive market?

It’s not clear Northeastern wants to gain market share. Right now we’re looking at approximately 150 students across three programs. It’s not a large number of students.

If Northeastern or other institutions are interested in market share, they’re going to move into the more high-volume programs like MBAs; that’s where you can really grow and bring in large numbers.

The programs Northeastern is bringing to Toronto may grow, but they’re not going to be huge in and of themselves. It will really depend on whether Northeastern or other universities decide to expand into programs that have higher levels of enrollment. Right now, Northeastern hasn’t made an application for any of those programs.

These programs all have very specific target demographics that are not necessarily being served by any of Toronto’s existing colleges or universities. How will Northeastern be able to attract those students to their programs?

Northeastern is a very highly respected and well known institution. The kinds of programs that they’re offering, like the regulatory affairs program, have very clear student markets in Ontario. This is also the case with their information assurance program.

They are serving very limited markets and I don’t think they’re going to have much trouble making employers aware of their offerings.

Do you think Northeastern’s move is going to be unique, or will Toronto evolve to become a knowledge hub with numerous American branch campuses?

I think, in the long run, there will be more institutions here. The reality is that there has been an attempt to make it difficult to enter Ontario’s higher education market. Because of the way the Pan-Canadian Assessment Program is set up, and because of the application process that’s involved, it’s not easy to enter this space. You have to invest a fair amount of money just to go through the application process.

Having said that, a place like Toronto has only four universities. If you look at Chicago though, which is a similar size, they have 25-30 universities. The GTA is not as well supplied as many of the US markets, so you’re probably going to find, over the long run, that more institutions will come into the GTA market.

Is there anything you would like to add about the impact this move will have on Toronto’s higher education marketplace?

Ultimately, it’s going to rely on the quality of their graduates. Northeastern is a good institution and the programs are good. They’ve gone through a very rigorous review process so I don’t think they’re going to have much difficulty differentiating themselves in this market. They’ll have a good program and good graduates.

I think they will make a difference in the community.

This interview has been edited for length.

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