University explores new branch campus in Arizona

Dr. G. Blair Dowden, Huntington University, a Christian collegeHUNTINGTON, Ind. The City of Peoria, Ariz., has entered into an exclusive negotiating agreement with Huntington University to explore the development of a branch campus in the Phoenix suburb. The measure, approved by the Peoria city council Tuesday night, is a step toward the community's long-range economic development goals.

Huntington was recruited by the City of Peoria's Economic Development Services Office because of its reputation for high-quality academic programs in both the sciences and the arts.

"We are very happy to enter into these negotiations with Huntington," said Scott Whyte, Peoria's director of Economic Development Services. "Their programs in health care particularly resonate with the city's strong employment base in the industry and offer a perfect complement to other recent developments in Peoria."

Since 2010, the City of Peoria has actively pursued attracting institutions of higher education as part of its Economic Development Implementation Strategy (EDIS). A cornerstone of the plan is the establishment of university campuses throughout the city, including a residential campus.

The plan projects that a college campus would "provide a significant number of new student, faculty, and staff customers who will need nearby dining, entertainment, and shopping and services opportunities. The educational facility then serves as a stimulus for small business start-ups in the area ...."

"It's a win-win situation," said Dr. Ann McPherren, senior vice president for strategy and professor of business and economics. "Traditional, residential college education is our wheelhouse. It is what Huntington University does best."

Huntington officials say the invitation fits the Christian college's entrepreneurial spirit and academic strengths.

"It is with great anticipation that Huntington University explores this strategic partnership with the Peoria community. The academic programs that Peoria seeks to bring to the city parallel some of Huntington's strongest and fastest growing programs including digital media arts, exercise science and kinesiology and nursing. These majors demonstrate our continuing desire to respond to market demands in a high-quality manner," said Dr. G. Blair Dowden, president of Huntington University.

The 180-day exclusive negotiating agreement will give both the university and the city an opportunity to explore logistics, conduct market research and assess the community's needs.

Huntington administrators traveled to Arizona in August to meet with Peoria's economic development officials. They also sought input from HU alumni living in the region. Another site visit is planned for later this month, Dowden said.

"Higher education is an engine for economic growth and community development," McPherren, said. "This sort of public-private partnership is in our roots. Huntington University was initially founded here in Indiana through a strategic partnership between the Huntington Land Association and the Church of the United Brethren in Christ."

While it may seem unusual for a Southwestern city to seek an educational partner in the Midwest, it is the result of the historical development of colleges and universities across the United States, explained Jeff Berggren, senior vice president for enrollment management and marketing.

"The Midwest is fortunate to have many strong, independent colleges and universities. Indiana has 31 private colleges, but Arizona with its similar population has only 11," Berggren said. "When the City of Peoria wanted new partners in higher education, it was only natural that they would look to our region."

Berggren added that Trine University in Angola, Ind., and St. Scholastica College of Duluth, Minn., are also exploring the potential of offering programs in Peoria. Huntington administrators were introduced to the opportunity in Peoria by peers at Trine while collaborating on Fort Wayne initiatives.

"The spirit of partnership demonstrated by the city's Economic Development Services Office, and our ongoing collaboration with Trine University, makes this a very attractive opportunity for Huntington University to pursue," Dowden said. "Our faculty, staff and trustees are very enthusiastic about extending our 115-year commitment to high-quality education and Christian mission to a growing, entrepreneurial city like Peoria."