City of Mesa Takes Aim at Higher Education Options

Mesa, AZ | Submitted by Jaye O'Donnell

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Educational attainment has long been linked to the economic strength of a community, not to mention the individual benefits. For the half a million residents in Mesa, leadership wanted to make higher education more readily accessible in their own city and set out to do just that. As a result, the city is now home to more than a dozen colleges and universities with more than 30,000 students.

Statewide, 42 percent of adults have earned a 2- or 4-year degree, yet by the year 2020, nearly 70 percent of all jobs will require education or training beyond high school. City leaders recognized that gap and in 2009, developed a plan to alleviate the difference and thereby enhance the region’s economy.

The city specifically sought to attract additional post-secondary schools offering programs of study that aligned with Mesa’s industries of opportunity including healthcare, aerospace, aviation, defense, tourism and technology. But leaders also researched employment trends and recognized that Mesa would face an increased need for workers educated in liberal arts, business/financial management, technology and health sciences.

To meet that need, Mesa worked to create a cluster of new colleges and universities offering four-year or graduate degrees with the long-term goal of making Mesa a “destination for education.”

In making the vision a reality, Mesa aided institutions in finding adequate, affordable space for establishing campuses. Previously vacant city-owned properties became future classrooms, conference rooms, and state-of-the-art labs. Additionally, the private sector stepped up and redeveloped the Alhambra Hotel into beautiful new student housing for up to 50 Benedictine University co-eds. And to make the new institutions affordable for aspiring students, the city asked the colleges and universities to participate in the Mesa Educates U Scholarship Program, to fund tuition costs for Mesa residents pursuing a college degree. Since the new schools have opened, more than $3 million has been awarded in scholarships for students attending Benedictine University and Wilkes University in Mesa.

The push for higher education was more than successful – Mesa has added a mix of nonprofit and private schools to its locale, with dozens of programs offered. It’s a boon for everyone in the region since residents, businesses, K-12 students, new and existing post-secondary institutions benefit directly from additional diverse higher education offerings. By investing in the long-term sustainability of the community, the City has committed to the future for all its citizens.

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