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By: Peter O'Dowd on 11/30/2012
Starting next year,
Above, Judy Baker answers questions for prospective students at Benedictine University's branch campus in Mesa. Classes start next year. Below, the City of Peoria's Scott Whyte helped bring Indiana-based Trine University to Arizona. (Photos by Peter O'Dowd - KJZZ)
PETER O’DOWD: This is
SCOTT WHYTE: ...which we can easily imagine being full of engineering students.
O’DOWD: Scott Whyte works in economic development for the City of
WHYTE: We’re looking for universities that have rich programming in STEM. Science, technology, engineering and math. That can help serve to establish our innovation economy.
O’DOWD: Those words – innovation and economy -- are buzzing around a lot these days. In
WHYTE: We’re not diversified.
O’DOWD: Like so many other bedroom communities in the nation’s Sunbelt, this imbalance left
WHYTE: We were hard hit and we don’t want to repeat that. And that’s why we’re going down the road we are going to insulate ourselves as much as possible from those ill effects.
O’DOWD: So the city’s strategy is to lure high-tech employers with a crop of new engineers and health care workers. By spring, several hundred are expected to enroll here. A few years from now, Trine University President Earl Brooks envisions all three of
EARL BROOKS: We have dreamed some point down the road, even residence life. You know a full-blown college campus.
O’DOWD: Brooks sees vast opportunity for Trine with 1.2 million people within 15 miles of
ROLAND KING: I guess it overstates it to call this the new Gold Rush because it’s not quite at that level.
O’DOWD: But it is the future, King says. As small schools face more competition at home, they’re looking West where private college education is less established – and often non-existent.
KING: It is underserved. So it kind of makes sense for these schools to move into that vacuum.
O’DOWD: So the match is made between colleges looking to grow and cities that need fresh brainpower. And maybe the biggest match yet is blossoming in downtown
SCOTT SMITH: We have Westminster College, from Fulton,
SMITH: And so I think what you’re seeing, is the
O’DOWD: Four of the schools will open within a few blocks of here, creating an academic consortium. And Benedictine even has plans to start an athletics program.
SMITH: If we had a couple three, four thousand students in downtown
O’DOWD: Both Mesa and Peoria say there will be a key challenge to making the vision successful – getting Arizona students to pay a lot of money for schools that many have never heard of.