COLUMBIA — Fulton's Westminster College has announced plans to bring its first branch campus to downtown Mesa, Ariz., in fall 2013.
"Westminster is very excited about this," said John Comerford, the school's vice president of institutional advancement, adding that this is the first time the school has tried a branch operation in its 161-year history.
Comerford said Mesa was chosen because of the strong partnership the city will have with the college.
"The city of Mesa has a bold and forward-looking strategic plan for the future," he said. "Higher education is part of that plan."
Officials from Westminster and the city of Mesa signed a memorandum of understanding Monday, according to a press release. The memorandum is a non-binding document that will establish a period of exclusive negotiations between the two parties to solidify a development agreement.
The current goal is to negotiate a five-year lease between the college and the city. The proposal will be voted on by the Mesa City Council at its April 26 meeting.
Christopher Brady, Mesa's city manager, said he hopes bringing in small higher education institutes will improve the city's job market.
"We hope this will create a well-established workforce for our employers that are here today," he said. "It's a way to attract new employers in the future because we will have well-trained, educated students to take on a variety of responsibilities."
Brady said the recruitment of higher education institutes began three years ago. Benedictine University, based in suburban Chicago, has also made plans to develop a branch there.
The colleges will not compete, but rather complement one another, Comerford said.
"Westminster will own the liberal arts sector," Comerford said. "Our initial degree programs go with the educational demands of the city."
Mesa — the third-largest city in Arizona and the 38th-largest city in the United States — was searching for a not-for-profit liberal arts college to come to the area, said Rob Crouse, Westminster's director of media and public relations.
"What we were lacking in area development was individual-sized, liberal arts colleges in the area," Brady said. "Many students in the area were leaving to receive that kind of education."
"The city of Mesa sent out information to over a thousand colleges," Crouse said. "They sifted through all of the information that came back and they came down to 12 colleges they were interested in. Westminster stood out to them."
Crouse said that both Westminster's strong academic tradition and its available academic programs were deciding factors when determining whether the school would be a good fit for the city.
Brady said Westminster was chosen because of its well-established reputation as a liberal arts college.
"Westminster has a great reputation and great name that will attract quality students to come into their program and then we will be able to match them up with our employers," Brady said. "This will contribute to our overall community."
George Wolf, vice president and dean of enrollment at Westminster, said he believes this expansion will bring greater recognition to the college.
"Students will be able to choose between the two campuses (of Westminster)," Wolf said. "The unique thing is that it's going to be available for students to be very transitional."
Wolf said students will have the opportunity to experience both campuses through internships and other opportunities that will allow them to split their time between Fulton and Mesa.
"Since it's a partnership with the city of Mesa, we are partnering with their opportunities in the city," Wolf said. "We are not only developing our academic offerings, much like we do in Fulton, but also developing a student life partnership and utilizing their facilities."
Wolf said the fine arts and recreational facets of Mesa will provide endless opportunities to the branch's student life program.
Westminster officials have selected Robert A. Seelinger, a Westminster classics professor, to serve as dean of the Mesa branch campus, according to the press release.
"Dr. Seelinger has a lot of institutional understanding," Wolf said. "He has a strong understanding of what Westminster is and what we want it to be in Mesa."