DAYTONA BEACH. September 21, 2010. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University has narrowed its search for a third campus and a decision may be made by the board in November. Embry-Riddle President John Johnson said he's looking at the Rockford/Chicago area, Houston and Los Angeles. But it's Rockford that is making an all-out effort to recruit the university with a petition drive and strong community support.
"We are very impressed with some of the things they have to offer," Johnson said. "But we also have not ruled out Houston or Los Angeles either." Johnson added, "It's important to understand this is still in the exploratory stage."
Johnson has been looking at large metropolitan areas to add a campus similar but much smaller to the Daytona Beach campus that could include housing and services for students who wish to commute. The university wants to expand to "enhance enrollment and tuition revenue," Johnson said.
Enrollment at the Daytona Beach main campus and second campus in Prescott, Ariz., decreased from 2008 to 2009 though estimates this year show it returning to the same levels as two years ago. Johnson doesn't see Daytona Beach growing past 6,000 students from about 5,000 currently or Prescott growing past 2,000 students compared to 1,700 now.
The third campus, which would have about 1,000 students and about 300 employees, would attract students who would not ordinarily be able to go to Prescott or Daytona Beach, Johnson said. "It's important for our university to be able to grow and increase enrollment," Johnson said by phone Wednesday while traveling. "We are not expanding for the sake of expanding. We are trying to make it possible for students to get an Embry-Riddle education who currently would not come to either Daytona or Prescott."
Embry-Riddle, which has been based in Daytona Beach since 1965 after originally starting a school in Ohio in 1926, has been ranked the past 11 years by U.S. News & World Report as the No. 1 aerospace engineering program in the nation. Embry-Riddle has six Embry-Riddle alumni who are current or former astronauts. In addition to Daytona Beach and Prescott, the university has about 170 worldwide educational centers in the United States and other countries.
Johnson said the community of Rockford, about 80 miles west of Chicago, has been "courting" the university, including "considering building a building for us." Local, state, federal government and aerospace industry officials met earlier this week in the Rockford community drumming up support for the project. The Rockford Area Economic Development Council has a dedicated website that includes a sign that reads, "Embry-Riddle, we would love to have you here."
The website, www.rocktheair.com is seeking petitions of support. Plans are also being discussed, according to Rockford news reports, to put up billboards in Rockford and in Daytona Beach letting Embry-Riddle know about the community's interest. Administrators of the Chicago Rockford International Airport, which is being considered for the campus, and other community leaders are developing a package to give Johnson by the end of October.
Bob O'Brien, executive director of the airport, said the proposal being considered includes an incentive for the community to build the 85,000-square-foot facility of classrooms, labs, offices and ramp and taxi connections. The community groups would find funding to pay for the approximate $35 million facility, O'Brien said, and could lease the site to Embry-Riddle. Embry-Riddle already has one of its worldwide centers at that airport as well as in Los Angeles and Houston, which are being considered.
Janyce Fadden, president of the Rockford Area Economic Development Council, said the Rockford area has more than 80 aerospace companies and "we felt adding an Embry-Riddle campus to our area would be outstanding." Fadden said community leaders have been meeting almost daily and doing everything they can "to put our best foot forward" to be Embry-Riddle's third campus location.
Johnson has also been getting encouragement for Rockford from two members of the board of trustees from Chicago and Rockford. Trustee and Embry-Riddle alumni Ken Dufour of Rockford spoke at the community meeting earlier this week in Illinois rallying support. He cited the void Embry-Riddle has in the Midwest and how Rockford needs to fill that, according to television broadcasts. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Johnson said he doesn't see any conflict with looking at areas where board members live, adding "the only thing they want to do is help the institution by making us aware of possibilities." He also has industry representatives on his president's advisory board and gets calls from representatives saying, "Houston would be a great place."
Rockford, he said, has advantages, including aerospace companies in the area and a large airport with two major runways. He also said Rockford is a midsize city within an hour of many major metropolitan areas in the region from which the campus could draw students. Johnson has met with leaders of other colleges and universities in the Rockford area willing to partner with Embry-Riddle.
Johnson said leaders in Houston and Los Angeles have asked Embry-Riddle to visit and "they've asked us to allow them to make a case for a campus there as well. We are looking at those possibilities."
Economic officials with Los Angeles and Los Angeles International Airport were not familiar with any project. A spokesman for an economic partnership group in Houston said it does not comment on projects that could be under negotiation. Johnson hopes to make a recommendation to the ERAU board at the Nov. 12 meeting at the Prescott campus.