New for-profit campus adds to growing list of universities, community colleges and schools that call city home

FILE PHOTO - Triangle Pointe building in 2009. The building is now home to Clear Channel, Xerox and the soon-to-open National American University, a for-profit school.It may be time to start thinking of Tigard as a college town.

Sure, it may lack the traditional college vibe of Eugene, or Corvallis, but the list of colleges, universities and for-profit schools that are making the city home is growing.

Four schools have campuses in Tigard — most within 1,000 feet of each other — and another is set to open next month when National American Universty begins classes at the Triangle Pointe building near Highway 217, on Sept. 3.

Having a satellite campus in Tigard has long been the norm for several universities and for-profit schools.

Portland Community College's Sylvania campus isn’t in the city limits of Tigard, but has long been the dominant draw for students looking to get an education locally.

But within a small three-block area off Southwest 72nd Avenue is a campus of George Fox University and for-profit schools University of Phoenix and National American University.

Up the road is Everest Institute, a for-profit school not far from Washington Square.

For-profit schools have come under fire in recent years for aggressive recruiting practices. Offering high tuition, high loan-default rates and low graduation rates.

Love them or hate them, the schools are joining a growing list of higher education providers in and around Tigard.

But what is attracting schools to start campuses around town? According to Shannon Semau, senior campus director for the new National American University campus, it’s all about location.

“Obviously, geographically, we are in a really great spot,” Semau said.

'The end of the World'

Most of the Tigard-area campuses are located near Interstate 5 and Highway 217, which Semau said helps attract students.

“From here we not only serve the Portland metro-area, we can also reach out to other communities like McMinnville, Salem, Newberg and reach people who don’t want to commute all the way into Portland," she said. "This is such an appealing area, geographically.”

But that hasn't always been the consensus.

While schools all over the country have started Portland-area locations in and around Tigard, the idea seemed crazy back in the 1960's when Portland Community College opened its Sylvania campus.

“The place seemed like the end of the world at the end of a cow trail,” said Walt Allen, in the book 'They Just Did It' which chronicles the community college's history. “There was nothing around, except for trees, rocks and sloping mountains.”

Newspapers wrote editorials criticizing the plan to build Sylvania so far from the population centers, but Kate Chester, a spokeswoman for PCC Sylvania, said that leaders at the time believed that people would flock to the area.

“It was way out in the boonies,” Chester said. “But this was a part of Portland that was going to be growing. It was an probably an opportunity to serve the student body they had and also think about the future and the needs for 5, 10 or 20 years down the road.”

'It's the place to be'

TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Sarah Konkolewski leads a tour group at the new National American University branch in Tigard. The college offers both in-class and online courses, aimed at helping working adults further their career ambitions.

Taking up the entire bottom floor of the former Farmers Insurance headquarters, the new National American location is the for-profit school’s first campus on the west coast. The majority of National American’s 30 campuses are located in the Midwest.

“Oregon is obviously a great place, and it is more highly educated,” Semau said. “It’s the place to start.”

At the confluence of three major highways — Pacific Highway, Highway 217 and Interstate 5 — Tigard is the ideal place to build a school, said Rob Felton, a spokesman with George Fox University.

George Fox’s Tigard campus — incorrectly referred to as its Portland Center — enrolls about 1,500 students, most taking night and weekend classes.

“Particularly, these type of programs are designed with working adults in mind, so it’s important to be where the people are,” he said.

National American University offers associate, bachelor and masters degrees in several fields, including business administration, criminal justice, healthcare management and nursing.

Many of the school’s courses are available online, but Semau said that as the campus grows it will offer more and more courses at the Tigard location.

It’s far from the typical college atmosphere. National American’s campus is also home to Clear Channel's Portland radio stations, and a Xerox call center, which provides technical support for several companies.

But Semau said students need to have a physical place that they can take courses as well as their online studies.

“They need to understand that they still have a community, and a place where they can come network with other students,” she said.

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