Dec 12, 2012
Emily McMackin
Emily McMackin
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STEM Strategy: Communities, Satellite Colleges Collaborate to Build Innovative Workforce

Berea College is located in Berea KY

“If you build it, they will come.” It sounds like the catchphrase that inspired an Iowa farmer to build a baseball diamond in the middle of cornfield in the movie “Field of Dreams,” but it also describes an effort taking place in the suburbs of Phoenix, Ariz. to attract a cluster of private higher education institutions from thousands of miles away.

Why are these communities intent on recruiting colleges and universities outside their own backyard? Because these schools have something these towns want: programs rich in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) that hold the potential to help them build a better educated, more innovative future workforce that will draw industries and investment.

In Peoria, a suburb northwest of Phoenix, three small Midwestern universities, including Trine University in Northeastern Indiana, are setting up satellite campuses, NPR reports.

Local leaders hope the influence of these schools will eventually change a troubling statistic: that 93 percent of local workers  commute to other cities for jobs. The city learned its lesson during the Recession when home construction and retail — its two primary industries — tanked. This time, leaders hope to get ahead of the situation by creating a workforce that will attract more diversified jobs in engineering, health care and other high-tech fields.

“That’s why we’re going down the road that we are going – to insulate ourselves, as much as possible,” Peoria economic development director Scott Whyte told NPR.

Partnerships like these are also beneficial to small, private universities and liberal arts colleges, many of which are looking to expand beyond their urban roots in older cities and tap into rising population centers in the Sunbelt.

“It makes sense for these schools to move into that vacuum,” Ronald King of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities told NPR. “The match is made between colleges looking to grow, and cities that need fresh brainpower.”

Already five satellite liberal arts colleges from states as far away as Missouri, Illinois, Iowa and Pennsylvania are setting up campuses in Mesa, another Phoenix suburb. One will be the first Catholic college in the state. Not only will these schools raise the skills of the workforce, Mesa mayor Scott Smith said, but they will also bring vibrancy back to the city’s core.

What do you think of the strategy in these Arizona towns? What does the presence of a college or university add to communities, and what kind of impact can their STEM programs have on developing talent? Please share your thoughts below.

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