Arkansas State to Open Campus in Mexico
JONESBORO – Following the December Board of Trustees approval of a historic proposal from Arkansas State University to proceed with negotiations to establish an ASU campus in Querétaro (pronounced ke-‘re-ta-ro), Mexico, Chancellor Tim Hudson traveled there to continue due diligence on the project.
While in Mexico, Hudson met with the Governor of Querétaro Jose Calzada. They took a helicopter tour of potential sites, met with possible land and scholarship donors, and began planning for a national event to inaugurate the project. Everywhere they went, numerous news media representatives were close behind.
When newspapers were published the following day, the story of Arkansas State’s plans to locate in Queretaro was on every front page, no real surprise given the magnitude of this project and the potential it holds for the students of Mexico.
Chancellor Hudson commented, "Arkansas State University will change the trajectory of higher education in Mexico with a partnership in Querétaro that will also help A-State fulfill its mission of preparing students to be global citizens.” In addition, he said the project offers great potential for faculty exchange and collaborative research.
During the Board of Trustees meeting on Dec. 7, ASU System President Dr. Chuck Welch said “the campus in Querétaro will be an opportunity to significantly raise the profile of Arkansas State on the national and international scene by establishing a public American university there.”
Dr. Welch added, “We feel very comfortable, with conservative enrollment and financial projections, that this would be a self-sustaining program based solely on tuition revenue.”
Welch reviewed with the Board the steps that have been taken thus far at the Jonesboro campus under the leadership of Chancellor Hudson and Provost Lynita Cooksey. “They have been working with campus stakeholders to share information and discuss the advantages of setting up the campus in Mexico. The Faculty Senate and the Student Government Association leaders have endorsed the project.”
Trustee Dan Pierce of Jonesboro moved to approve the resolution authorizing ASU to move forward with the project.
“I consider it an honor to make this motion, what I consider to be a historic decision for Arkansas State University,” Pierce said. “We’re taking steps to be a global university for a global economy. I am so excited about the potential.”
Numerous multinational corporations have expressed interest in hiring student interns, graduates and making use of faculty expertise to improve their business processes.
Located in the highlands two hours north of Mexico City, Querétaro is a very progressive, prosperous state, and one that is safe. More than 500 multinational companies operate there including Unilever, Nestle, Bombardier, Gerber, Eurocopter and New Holland. “Our faculty and other representatives who have visited Querétaro say corporate connections will be available there that don't currently exist at Arkansas State,” Hudson said.
During his visit in December, Chancellor Hudson was particularly struck by three major developments that underscore Queretaro as what the New York Times has called the “other Mexico,” because of its extraordinary economic development and social progress.
First, the State of Queretaro won fierce internal competition to be the other terminus (along with Mexico City) for the first high-speed railroad line to be built in the Western Hemisphere. A Spanish-French conglomerate is scheduled to begin construction late this year, with a completion date of 2016. This link will reduce travel time between the two cities to one hour.
A second announcement concerned Mexico’s initiative to establish its own deep space program over the next decade, with research and implementation activity headquartered in Queretaro. Hudson pointed out that the city’s robust aeronautics sector contributed to its selection.
Also, Queretaro will complete construction of the country’s first children’s cancer research center and hospital, utilizing only privately raised funds.
Recently, Dr. Yvonne Unnold, chair of the Department of World Languages and Cultures who has been appointed as the project lead, and Dr. David Beasley, dean of the College of Engineering, traveled to Querétaro to further investigate the feasibility of a campus there. “Industry after industry expressed the need for a more educated workforce,” said Dr. Beasley. “We experienced overwhelming support from local officials, corporations and investors. The potential is significant.”
Dr. Hudson commented, “An educated populace can better sustain a functioning democracy and move Mexico closer to a meritocracy, where advancement is based on performance and merit. The investors and donors in Mexico have a strong desire to see that happen.”
While in Mexico, Chancellor Hudson traveled to Mexico City to meet with all principals who comprise the newly created board of directors of the Association for the Advancement of Education in Mexico (AIEM). Oscar Franco, the chief executive officer of Grupo Proyectos the private sector conglomerate that originally floated the campus concept, is the chair of the AIEM board, and Edmundo Ortiz, who heads up the project, is the vice chair. AIEM will finance and build the campus ensuring that Arkansas State will have no liabilities in the country. Last September, Franco and Ortiz joined the governor of the State of Querétaro, Jose Calzada, and a delegation of government representatives visited Arkansas State and Jonesboro to familiarize themselves more with the university and its mission.
The group met with City of Jonesboro officials and Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce representatives then toured the city with stops at several prime locations including Nestle and Unilever. Both of those companies also have production facilities in Querétaro.
At a dinner with university officials and Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, the delegation further discussed the possibility of a partnership between Querétaro and ASU. Gov. Beebe underscored the proposal’s significance by talking about why the initiative with Querétaro is so important.
“It’s a risk, but it’s a risk worth taking. It’s different, but it’s the kind of difference we all should embrace. It’s progressive, but it’s the kind of progressiveness that many just talk about but few put into action,” Gov. Beebe responded.
Following his visit to Jonesboro, Governor Calzada made several observations.
“I feel very much excited about the opportunity we could have between the university and Querétaro. This is very important for us. We could expand the education offerings in Querétaro, and share with the students from Arkansas the opportunities of knowing our culture. I am very much impressed with the technology and the investment you have put into this university."
Gov. Calzada said Querétaro is attracting industry and is one of the most dynamic states in Mexico, and demand for higher education is increasing. Additionally, Querétaro has had the most stable economy among all Mexican states since the beginning of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
“We are doing very well, but we are missing one important key factor – that is education. Only three in 10 students have access to higher education, so we are missing one of the key parts not only for economic growth but also for Mexico’s social development.”
“That’s what brings us here . . . plus the power and the good will of friends,” he continued. “We are hoping to make our educational dreams come true with the help of a great state like Arkansas.”
Gov. Calzada told the local leaders that he met in February, 2012 with 21 U.S. governors during the National Governors Association meeting in Washington, D.C. As president of the Mexico’s comparable organization, he was invited to attend, the first time for Mexico to be represented.
“Many U.S. governors are aware of the trade and business opportunities . . . trade comes along, businessmen get together and do business, companies come and go,” he continued. “But, education is the crucial key that policymakers have to talk about.”
Gov. Calzada is a third generation political leader in Querétaro, the son of a former governor and grandson of a former mayor of Querétaro City. He earned his college degree at New Mexico State University. Having identified enhancement of educational access as a cornerstone of his administration, he is very supportive of that concept.
“All the elements are in place for Arkansas State to lead this innovative and important initiative,” said Dr. Unnold, who will head the project for ASU and is fluent in Spanish and an authority on Latin American cultures.
The next steps will include a possible visit to Arkansas by representatives of the group of developers, who are now preparing a comprehensive land development plan with the university campus at its heart. Also, they will seek participation of the president of Mexico in a national event formally launching the project scheduled for completion in the fall of 2015.