Mesa has a deal to bring a third college to its downtown, a liberal arts institution that will offer an accelerated degree program for non-traditional students.
Albright College of Reading, Pa., will begin recruiting students immediately and offer classes this fall, a full year ahead of the other two colleges that have announced Mesa branches this year. This will be the first location outside of Albright’s home state.
Albright began the accelerated degree program 15 years ago at its traditional residential campus but expanded that offering to eight other locations in Pennsylvania because of strong demand, college President Lex McMillan III said while visiting Mesa on Tuesday.
McMillan said he doesn’t believe any other colleges in the Valley use Albright’s accelerated approach, but he thinks the program will shake up the market.
“I would be surprised if we don’t generate imitation,” he said.
While most part-time college students need up to eight years to get a degree, Albright’s program cuts that to two years.
Albright has already completed Arizona’s accreditation requirements. It will locate in Mesa Center for Higher Education, 245 W. Second St. The former court building will open in the fall of 2013 with Missouri-based Westminster College, and perhaps other colleges Mesa is in talks with. At the same time, Illinois-based Benedictine University will offer classes in another city-owned building downtown.
Mesa expects to make a deal with at least one more college later this year. The city has aggressively recruited colleges for more than a year as an economic development initiative that will bring life to downtown and boost graduation rates in the community.
Mesa Mayor Scott Smith said the city’s success in attracting well-respected colleges with highly ranked programs has generated interest from some of the nation’s biggest names in higher education. He wouldn’t divulge the schools but said the city’s progress is changing attitudes about Mesa.
“We not only have silenced the naysayers but we have shown them what this community is capable of,” Smith said.
McMillan said the college will enroll 200 students in three years and eventually grow to 1,000. Albright doesn’t have plans for a residential campus now, but McMillian said it could explore that after establishing itself.
It plans to move into the Mesa Center for Higher Education in 2014. It will initially offer classes in the Mesa Financial Plaza, a building also known as the Bank of America tower by Fiesta Mall.
Albright will initially focus on degrees in information technology, applied psychology and business administration. Programs will start after 10-15 students have enrolled, and they study together until graduation.
“They become a team, so there’s a lot of collaborate learning,” McMillan said.
The accelerated degree program has an 88 percent completion rate, which the college said is equal to Harvard and twice the national average.
Albright was founded in 1856 by a German evangelical church whose members wanted to make education accessible to people of limited means, McMillan said. Albright had been looking to expand outside Pennsylvania when Mesa contacted the college. The college prepared an extensive feasibility study a decade ago on establishing a campus in the Valley, but nothing ever came of that.
Albright’s most famous students include Brent Hurley, a founding member of YouTube who graduated in 2001. On a lighter note, three of its undergraduate students invented the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon in 1994.
Albright’s initial presence by Fiesta Mall is the first of what Mesa hopes will be several colleges that locate in the struggling Fiesta District. The school will locate at the same corner where the long-vacant Fiesta Village shopping center has been a source of embarrassment for the city. Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh represents that part of Mesa and said he hopes this development starts to turn the area around.
“At virtually every public appearance I make in the city, I get asked the question: What the heck is going on at the corner of Southern and Alma School?” Kavanaugh said. “And, boy, do I have an answer for them now.”
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