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October 22, 2014

Branch campuses are a good way to spread a school's brand to other parts of the country. (Mallory Noe-Payne/WGBH).

Branch campuses are smaller extensions of a school's main campus, located in a different city or state, and they're popping up across the country at a fast rate. Many Boston schools are now banking on these additional campuses to recruit students and to bolster their brands.

Babson College is a small prestigious school in Wellesley, Massachusetts. It has about 2,000 undergraduate students and is internationally renowned for its business and entrepreneurship programs. Now the school is trying to build on that reputation by trying something new: a small satellite space in San Francisco. So small, that campus might be too strong a word, says Scott Moore, Babson's undergraduate dean.

"Our space is in the financial district, it's the second or third floor of just an office building," Moore said. "We have the whole floor. The students work, take classes, in the study space. There's a kitchen. It's just a little mini campus.”

The school spends more than a million a year keeping that mini-campus up and running.  Twenty undergraduates are spending a semester there right now, taking classes focused on entrepreneurship and networking with local businesses. The whole program costs the same as it would for a semester on campus in Massachusetts.

“If you're Babson College and your focus is entrepreneurship, there's Boston, and there's San Francisco. Those are two big areas in the U.S.,” said Moore.

A virtual tour of Emerson's campus in Los Angeles. (Courtesy of Emerson). 

Branch campuses aren't new. Colleges and universities have been building them in other countries for some time now, but in the past few years Boston-area schools have been expanding within the country. Take Emerson College, which just finished construction on a flashy $110 million building in Hollywood.

Four years ago, Northeastern led the way when it opened a campus in Charlotte, North Carolina and then another in Seattle.

"I think a lot of universities are trying to figure out how we remain in business," said Barry Bluestone, who teachers urban policy at Northeastern.

Opening a branch campus may seem like a divestment from a school's primary campus, but for many, Bluestone says, it's a carefully calculated business decision.

"Part of it is to expand to a new market and bring in more students who are paying the freight which helps us deal with the cost," Bluestone said. "It's brand marketing and it's money raising.”

Northeastern says since it opened its Seattle campus the university has seen a spike in undergraduate applications from the Northwest. That's a thought not lost on Scott Moore at Babson. While the college's new branch campus may occupy only one floor of one San Francisco office building, he says the return on investment is high.

“San Francisco is a perfect place for our brand," Moore said. "We have banners on light posts all around the downtown area that say “We're out there” and it's because it's a perfect fit for who we are.”

Babson doesn't currently have plans to expand to any other cities, but Moore says, that could change depending on the success in San Francisco.

new business models, babson college

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