As a student at Emerson College, I have heard a lot about satellite campuses recently. On March 8th, Emerson broke ground on a new facility in Los Angeles. This project is meant to provide the college with a more permanent base for its existing L.A. internship program. The Los Angeles Center, which is expected to open in fall 2014, will add to Emerson’s presence outside of Boston.

I was surprised to find out that Emerson is not alone in this pursuit. Many universities are establishing satellite campuses both in the United States and abroad. Until recently, schools looking to expand have gone oversees, starting branches in regions where American-style higher education has great appeal—such as NYU Abu Dhabi, New York University’s branch in the United Arab Emirates. Other colleges have established bases around Asia and Europe; for example, Emerson’s campus at Kasteel Well in The Netherlands.

While international development is still prevalent, many colleges and universities are looking to expand closer to home. Northeastern University has an ambitious plan for such growth. Having opened a campus in Charlotte, North Carolina, in fall 2011, Northeastern has decided to launch a second site in Seattle next year. Plans for outposts in Texas, Minnesota, and California are also under discussion. Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania have also opened satellites in Sacramento and San Francisco, respectively.

Locations for satellite campuses are not chosen on a whim. Before finalizing plans in Charlotte, Northeastern did two years of analysis and research. They found that the city, with its growing economy and strong alumni base, possessed a smaller percentage of people with graduate degrees than Boston or New York. The school is hoping that by licensing eight master’s programs including business administration, project management, and sports leadership, it will be able to tap into a new crop of potential students.

Satellite campuses are also motivated by a desire to expose students to areas of the country that give them hands-on experience in their industry of choice. For example, Emerson’s L.A. program exposes students to a film industry that is much more established and robust than the one in Boston, while the University of Connecticut offers classes based in oceanography at their campus in Groton, located on the coast.

But this expansion has raised questions about the future of colleges and universities. Some observers believe that colleges and universities are currently in a transitional phase, shifting away from the traditional single campus status. As a result, these institutions will develop more of a national or international identity. Is Emerson’s L.A. Center the prototype for a new look in higher education? Will most colleges and universities operate on multiple campuses in the near future? As many of these projects are still in their infancy, it is difficult to figure out if they will catch on. The next few years will be crucial in determining their success and the future of satellite campuses at the higher education level.