The Missouri-based Westminster College plans to open a campus in downtown Mesa, which will make it the second school to expand into the city this year.
The nonprofit liberal arts college was founded in 1851 and has about 1,100 students at its Fulton campus, which was propelled to international fame in 1946 when former British Prime Minster Winston Churchill gave his famous “Iron Curtain” speech there. Westminster has gone on to host other international leaders, and its programs have an international flavor.
Westminster anticipates holding its first classes in fall 2013. Mesa and Westminster officials announced their plans Monday as they entered into a negotiation period to formalize the deal.
The undergraduate college has recruited students in the Valley for nine years and chose Mesa because of the area’s growth potential, said President George “Barney” Forsythe.
“Our strategic plan includes moving the college from a regional institution to a national institution,” Forsythe said.
Westminster will start with about 10,000 square feet in the former Mesa City Court, 245 W. Second St. The college expects to have about 560 students in five years and reach full growth potential of 1,200 students in a decade. Forsythe expects some students and faculty will go to both campuses. Westminster plans to hire locally for most positions.
The college is one of more than 1,000 that Mesa notified more than a year ago as the city launched an ambitious effort to bring multiple universities to the area. The first deal was struck in January with Illinois-based Benedictine University, which plans to open a downtown campus in the fall of 2013. Mayor Scott Smith said other announcements should come soon.
Mesa primarily wants nonprofit residential campuses to help enliven downtown. Smith said the city has declined offers from start-ups and was impressed by Westminster’s legacy.
“We were looking for something more than a storefront presence, and that was important to use because we want the colleges that come here to play an integral role in our community,” Smith said.
Westminster will offer three degrees initially in Mesa — transnational studies, international business and environmental studies. It plans minors in pre-med and pre-law, and that all programs will have an international focus.
“Our assessment is that’s what the 21st Century needs, and graduates with a baccalaureate degree,” Forsythe said. “And that is wonderful preparation for the workplace because the nature of work is going to continue to be transformed, so you have to have folks who can think critically about complex subjects and can continue to learn and grow.”
Westminster has been in talks with Mesa for about one year. The college and city officials said they’ll explore student housing for Westminster and other colleges in the coming years at various city-owned or privately owned properties.
Westminster was ranked by Forbes magazine as one of the best liberal arts colleges in the U.S. and The Princeton Review ranked it as one of the best colleges in the Midwest for 10 years in a row.
Its Fulton campus includes the National Churchill Museum and the longest contiguous section of the Berlin Wall in North America.
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