Gilbert’s first post-secondary educational option won’t open for more than a year, but local educational and civil leaders anticipate the campus to have a notable affect on the town’s educational landscape.
Chicago-based St. Xavier University came to an agreement with the town of Gilbert to open a satellite campus in the downtown area, known as the Heritage District. The school anticipates classes could start as early as spring 2015 with programs devoted to liberal arts, business and nursing for undergrads, graduate students and adult-degrees. Town Manager Patrick Banger said St. Xavier should house 2,000 students and between 100 and 120 employees.
Although adding a college to any municipality is a big deal, the addition of St. Xavier is even more exceptional because it will be the town’s first four-year post-secondary institution, and having that in town could have a significant effect on the education for all Gilbert students.
“Anytime we have another college come in is beneficial to our students,” said Higley Assistant Superintendent Mike Thomason.
The most obvious way St. Xavier could serve students will come after high school, as the university will offer students an option that isn’t out of town. Banger said that will appeal to students who prefer to commute from home in lieu of paying for a dorm room or an apartment.
And because the school is faith-based, small and heavily centered on liberal arts, Banger said St. Xavier won’t face too much competition from Arizona State University and the University of Arizona, and it could even add incentives for students to stay in the region.
“They serve a special population and a niche that might be underserved in the area,” Thomason said.
Outside of the post-high school plans, having St. Xavier in Gilbert could provide those students a richer educational experience through dual enrollment. The two school districts that serve Gilbert, Gilbert Public Schools and Higley Unified School District, each have programs that offer high school students an opportunity to take college courses — Higley works with Chandler-Gilbert Community College — at the same time.
Both Thomason and Gilbert Interim Superintendent Jack Keegan said that, depending on what degrees are offered, that program could extend to St. Xavier.
Keegan also mentioned having the university nearby — St. Xavier’s location along Vaughn Avenue isn’t too far from the Gilbert Public Schools office — offers the district’s teaching staff a convenient place to continue its education as well. One area in particular that could fill a need is special education training if the school offers a program devoted to it.
“As they come on board, we can coordinate some of our staff needs,” he said.
The town and officials like Keegan and Thomason expect the presence of St. Xavier to have indirect effects on the education system as well. One of those indirect areas comes in an increase in business, as the school’s location in the downtown area should spur more consumer consumption— whether from existing businesses or from new ones — with the addition of St. Xavier’s student and teacher population.
An increase in business can lead to an increase in tax money to benefit the districts, and additional funding could come to both districts if more people decide to move to Gilbert due to their educational reputations and that of St. Xavier.
Even without St. Xavier’s presence, Banger said the town is already tops among the Southeast Valley municipalities in housing permits, but the presence of a university could attract new residents who want to live in the town due to its educational options.
“Universities do draw people, and they’ll draw the students and spouses of people working in those high-tech fields,” he said.
One final area the new university could benefit Gilbert students is the chance that more post-secondary options could move in as well. Currently, Banger said the town is engaged in active discussions with three universities, as well as a fourth institution he said the town has had on-and-off talks with. Either way, Banger said the town expects to announce the addition of another college sometime this year.
At least having the one open for business should provide benefits that will last for a while. As Banger put it, businesses will often come and go, but colleges and universities tend to stay around for a while.
“St. Xavier will be there for decades to come,” he said.
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