Center for Higher Education
What is Mesa Center for Higher Education?
By Dolores Tropiano
The City of Mesa is creating a hub of higher education that may be unlike anything else being offered in the country.
Two distinguished legacy institutions, Wilkes University and Westminster College, will share academic space to form The Mesa Center for Higher Education at 245 W. 2nd St., Mesa. Classes begin as early as August of 2013. (A third school, Benedictine University, is also opening on Main St.)
“This may be the first time in the country where you have a multitude of established institutions moving into a city with the idea of building a college town,” said Mesa Mayor Scott Smith.
The original plan was to bring in one established liberal arts college but there was more interest than expected.
“The idea has really morphed into something much more exciting than we originally started with,” Smith said. “We’re creating a new model for liberal arts education in the 21th century.”
The two schools are well established, ranging in age from 79 to 160-years-old. Both are faith-based, liberal arts institutions and each will provide a unique niche of quality education.
Westminster College, based in Fulton, Mo., will offer programs in international business and transnational studies. A unique mentoring program is at the heart of Wilkes University, out of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., which will be offering master’s degree programs in business administration, creative writing, and engineering management as well as undergraduate degrees.
Students will have the opportunity to take classes at both learning institutions.
“This may be one of the most innovative things going on in college today,” said Patrick Lehey, president of Wilkes University.
The city is taking the lead on the project and plans to draw nearly 800 local and regional students to the 53,000-square-foot renovated court building over 5 years. (Wilkes University plans to start offering classes in temporary spaces.)
Location was a draw for the schools, which were attracted to the city’s METRO light rail, the Mesa Arts Center and the nearby Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. The institutions are also eager to offer educational opportunities to the nearly 260,000 students enrolled in two-year programs within the Maricopa County Community College system.
City officials are thrilled with the chance to change the culture and energy level of what was once a sleepy, suburban downtown.
“They are going to give a gigantic shot in the arm to downtown Mesa,” said Smith, “It’s going to become a center of college activity that will change the culture and accelerate the rebirth of downtown.”