Park University’s campus in downtown Gilbert will officially welcome its first group of full-time students this week after debuting last year with accelerated eight-week night classes for adults.
The campus also is beginning its first full semester with traditional 16-week classes for the students — the majority of whom are student-athletes.
“As it stands now, we will be close to 300 students for Fall (semester) I for 2019-2020 school year,” according to Jeff Ehrlich, executive director of the Gilbert campus. “For Fall I 2020-2021 we are tracking to add another 100 to our enrollment.”
Opening convocation ceremonies this Thursday begins at 9 a.m. with speakers, including Park University President Greg Gunderson and Gilbert Mayor Jenn Daniels.
The university’s enrollment is surpassing original expectations, which Ehrlich attributed to a number of factors.
“Our growth is a number of variables that include intercollegiate sports and additional new teams, partnerships with community organizations, enhanced marketing efforts, and student organizations that also include opportunities for club sports and activities,” he said.
“We continue to add new degrees as we see the demand in the community from employers and students,” he added. “There is also renewed discussion about adding additional graduate-level micro-degrees and certifications.”
The university has a total 11 teams — men’s and women’s basketball, golf, soccer, volleyball, men’s baseball, women’s softball and beach volleyball, according to university spokesman Brad Biles.
Having exceeded its original projection of over 300 students by year three, the university now expects to reach 750 students in five years.
The growth prompted the university to ask for more space for its Gilbert campus and an extension on its lease, which were granted by Council.
The campus increased to 17,837 square feet from 10,411 square feet at the four-story Gilbert University Building, owned by the town, near Ash Street and Vaughn Avenue in the Heritage District.
The Missouri-based private university’s original three-year lease was extended to five years, ending in 2023 instead of 2021.
During a recent Town Council meeting, Ehrlich told members:
“We didn’t come to dip our toe in the educational water. No, we are here. We are Gilbert’s university. We buy houses, we pay rent at apartments, we buy groceries. We enjoy the Heritage District and all that comes with such a wonderful town.”
Councilman Jared Taylor also applauded the university’s success and asked that Council consider in September the likelihood of selling the building.
Under the new lease, the university now will pay the town an annual rent of $463,902 for the second year and $539,646 the third year, fourth and fifth years.
Over the initial five-year term, Park University will pay $2.2 million in rent to Gilbert, according to town staff.
This year the university also will kick off its inaugural season of intercollegiate athletics with the launch of men’s and women’s basketball, soccer, volleyball, golf, men baseball, softball and women’s beach volleyball.
Park University’s progress is good news for the town, which was left in a bind after it built the 87,000-square-foot building with $36 million in taxpayer money for Saint Xavier University.
The Catholic institution inked a 15-year lease with Gilbert in 2015 but not even a year in the new building, it announced it was leaving. It paid a $4 million penalty for breaking the lease.
The building basically sat empty from 2016 until 2018 when Park University moved in.