Five liberal arts university presidents took part in a roundtable meeting Friday to discuss the feasibility of Surprise establishing a four-year college or university and the importance of more higher education options as students decide their futures.
Surprise approved its strategic plan in January, with a major component being higher education. Both residents and city officials say their goal is to establish a four-year college or university in the coming years in order to give teens more higher education options.
As part of the feasibility process, city officials invited five university presidents to Surprise to gauge their views on whether a growing metropolitan community, comprised of a number of young families who will be sending their children to college in the coming years, would be able to support a four-year college or university.
Jeff Mihelich, community and economic development director, said while Surprise is not necessarily in a race with other Valley municipalities to establish a four-year college, city officials know higher education is a cornerstone to community success.
“We know there’s a hole in the market, and we’re moving aggressively on this campaign,” Mihelich said.
The school presidents said there are three sets of criteria in creating a college or university: The school must develop a mission on what disciplines it will offer and whom it will serve; opportunities must be available for land and infrastructure and to ensure a requisite number of students would attend the university; and resources must be in place to ensure the college succeeds immediately.
Anthony Hendrickson, dean of Creighton University’s School of Business in Omaha, Neb., said resources include city government being on board to help with financing and logistics. Hendrickson said Surprise Stadium could be home to numerous school athletic events, while other existing city infrastructure and amenities could help recruit students.
The school presidents agreed Surprise should look to establish a bricks-and-mortar concept, rather than students taking online classes.
They said the enjoyment students receive while immersed with their peers in clubs, associations or athletics — either as fans or participants — helps them grow, mature and enjoy their entire collegiate experience.
But rather than partner with an existing state university with numerous disciplines, Fresno Pacific University President D. Merrill Ewert said Surprise leaders should look to create a liberal arts college with a handful of core themes rather than “being everything to everyone.”
Edward Balog, president of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Mich., said public-private partnerships would need to be established in order to court investors in showing them Surprise is serious about higher education.
Jamestown College President Robert Badal said the western United States, including Arizona, has a plethora of state and for-profit colleges and universities and that Surprise should look to position itself to stand out among the crowd.
Badal said Surprise needs to establish a liberal arts college, with also a focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics
Zach Colick can be reached at 623-876-2522 or firstname.lastname@example.org.