Tuesday, August 08, 2006

New ASU Campus on Track ~ Phoenix, AZ

New ASU Campus on Track
Phoenix officials cheer enrollment of 4,000 students downtown

by Ginger D. Richardson ~ The Arizona Republic ~ June 27, 2006

Interest in the new Arizona State University campus in downtown Phoenix appears to be robust, based on newly released enrollment numbers.

The university said Monday that about 4,000 students had signed up to take one or more classes in downtown Phoenix this August, 60 percent more than the 2,500 ASU officials and city leaders had been predicting.

The enrollment numbers, which include 2,200 full-time students, are important because it's the first indication of how the new urban university is being received by the public. They also are a barometer of whether the city's billion-dollar plus investment in its core might ultimately be a success; officials are counting on the campus to create spinoff development that brings new jobs and businesses to the region.

On Monday, officials at Phoenix City Hall cheered the news, saying that the figures are a sign that their downtown revitalization plans are on track, and that the $220 million in public bond monies that will support the campus are a worthwhile investment.

The new campus opens Aug. 21, and initially will be home to the College of Nursing, the College of Public Programs and the University College. Classes will be at three downtown locations: the Park Place building at Fillmore and Third streets; the 411 Building at Central Avenue and Polk Street; and the ASU Mercado at Fifth and Van Buren streets.

"It's phenomenal," Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon said Monday of the enrollment figures. "We've all been looking for a way . . . to get a lot of people down here quickly. When you think about it, this (campus) started two and a half years ago as a vision, and now we've got 4,600 people, if you count faculty and staff, that will be part of downtown this fall."

At this point, university officials say the extra students are not causing any major headaches, and that they have enough space and staff to handle the influx. The larger headcount means some extra work, however. Officials are now currently looking at offering core classes, such as English, math and history, at additional times.

If there is bad news to be found in the enrollment figures, it is in the student housing numbers. ASU has leased enough space downtown to sleep about 270 students, but only 120 have signed up so far.

"That's a little less than we had hoped," said Mernoy Harrison, the downtown campus' vice president and provost.

University and city officials hope to create a 24-7 hub of activity downtown; the best way to do that is by having students live in the area.ASU recently inked a deal to use the Ramada-Inn Downtown as its dormitory during the first years. ASU also is negotiating with a Virginia-based developer to build permanent student housing. Details of the plan have not been released, but ASU is asking that the company build at least 700 living spaces in the city center by fall 2008. The high-rise project also is expected to include retail space and perhaps condominiums.

It's not clear why more students have not requested downtown living quarters. Early indications suggest that the trend has more to do with the type of students attending classes downtown than it does with the area's appeal.

The university expects many of the enrollees to be non-traditional students who are older, work and attend classes part-time, or are commuters.

University officials do not plan to revise their enrollment estimates for the future phases of the campus, based on the newly released numbers. They are still projecting that there will be about 7,500 students downtown in fall 2008, and about 15,000 enrolled at full-build out in 2015 or 2020.

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