In 2012, former President G. Blair Dowden and the institution began pursuing an entirely new campus in Peoria, Ariz. It would feature exciting programs such as nursing, visual arts, pre-med and math. After the Huntingtonian staff eventually published the article online, I knew the Arizona campus would be an exciting story for my future years on the newspaper.
That was two years ago.
Today, the Peoria “dream” remains exactly that – a dream. A dream that the university still wants to pursue. A stubborn dream that seems like it will never become a reality.
A dream that should be vanquished.
When President Sherilyn Emberton, Ed.D., said the plans were “kind of a mess” last year after Peoria changed its funding for the initiative, the proposal was all but dead. Now, the university is focusing on a simpler plan – a digital media arts school in a pre-existing building we would rent out. The lease comes with an early-exit clause in case of insufficient enrollment – an escape plan, if you will.
While it is not a secret that the university boasts a credible film program, the Arizona branch campus will not have any HU faculty transferring to Peoria. Instead, Emberton said they are talking to a nearby faculty member to head up the new DMA school. For a school 1,800 miles away from the university’s dean, this seems like a risky hire if we want to continue the film program’s excellence.
Even though Jeff Berggren says there aren’t a lot of higher education DMA schools in the area, Arizona State University actually has a DMA program and is only 25 miles away from Peoria. If prospective students are looking for a Christian film school, Grand Canyon University – a mere 17 minute commute from Peoria also has a DMA department. Specifically for film, six of the 11 accredited film schools in Arizona are at most 36 miles away from Peoria, according to educationnews.org. I highly doubt a prospective DMA student from Peoria would choose our small program led by an entirely new faculty member over proven film schools in the area.
Let’s also examine Trine University’s branch campus in Peoria. Trine has long been a model for the university’s Arizona initiative, but Emberton said their first class had roughly 15 students enrolled.
“We don’t want to repeat that,” Emberton said in her October board of trustees update. “We want to be able to produce something that has some sustainability.”
Trine’s enrollment is up since then. David Pearson, Trine-Peoria’s assistant vice president, said they have 40 undergraduate students enrolled and another 125 in their high school dual enrollment classes. But Trine also offers several associates, undergrad and graduate degrees ranging from business to criminal justice. Our branch, on the other hand, will offer one program to an entire city.
That does not sound sustainable.
This campus, right here in Huntington, is another reason to reconsider moving forward in Peoria. If things were perfect here, I would support the Peoria initiative, but we must face reality. In 2010, Forbes ranked the university as the 289th best college in the United States. Today, we are the 406th best college with a financial grade of D. The tentative plan to boost faculty and staff salaries could very well be shot down if enrollment continues to stagger. Full-time professors are a rarity in too many departments for a full liberal arts institution. We are just now growing our graduate program and will continue to do so in the future. Yes, we have made progress since I was a freshman, but the classes of 2016, 2017 and 2018 deserve to see even more on this campus.
The administration needs to devote their full attention to increasing revenue, boosting enrollment and satisfying current students and faculty here in Huntington rather than on a hit-or-miss film school in an area overflowing with other film programs.
That would be an exciting story for future Huntingtonian staffs.
Jared Huhta is a senior history education major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column reflects the views of the writer only.