There has been demand in many countries for the establishment of small campuses in more rural locations to spread the benefits of higher education both through the provision of university courses and through the positive economic spill-overs for these communities. Evaluations of the impacts of these universities according to current models show limited effects due to their small scale and specialization. Yet whilst there are clearly spill-over benefits from rural campuses into local communities, these are not only of the traditional (knowledge and economic) variety. Rather, regional campuses create social infrastructure that supports these places’ quality of life. This article seeks to develop a proposal for how such social impacts of regional campuses could be evaluated by creating a conceptual framework that articulates how university-region learning communities contribute to socio-economic development trajectories of rural regions. Our overarching hypothesis is that social rural campuses are places where local learning communities work with globally sourced knowledge to make it useful and usable in particular local contexts. Over time, these activities form the basis of regular contact networks, and the benefits they bring become woven into the provision of place-specific welfare services. As a result, the university’s contributions play a more structural role, and the students are involved in creating more lasting benefits by providing the interaction underpinning these structural collaborations. Our model is exemplified through an exploration of the context of the status of rural university campuses in Norway, and a case study of the Academy of Music, an outpost of the multi-campus University of Tromsø (UiT The Arctic University of Norway).