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UNM eyes campus in Santa Fe

SANTA FE, N.M. — The University of New Mexico is considering a possible partnership with a Singapore-based for-profit education company that could help expand its presence in northern New Mexico.

UNM is considering a plan to offer programs at what is now the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, which will close at the end of the 2018 spring semester. (EDDIE MOORE/JOURNAL)

The state’s largest university is currently “vetting” Raffles Education Corp. as it weighs a collaboration to use a college campus in Santa Fe, interim President Chaouki Abdallah said at a meeting last week.

Raffles and UNM could work together to backfill the city of Santa Fe-owned property after the current tenant, Santa Fe University of Art and Design, shutters.

Abdallah told UNM’s Faculty Senate last week no decisions have been made but that a team assembled to investigate the idea should have a recommendation by year’s end.

UNM officials say it would not be a full-fledged “branch” campus but rather a place to offer classes in partnership with other entities.

UNM would not consider moving into Santa Fe without a partner to shoulder the purchase or lease costs for the space, interim Senior Vice Provost Rich Wood said. Raffles has not directly told UNM it is willing to do that, according to Wood.

But the company previously has shown interest. It tried to buy SFUAD from Laureate International Universities, the for-profit, Baltimore-based company that operates it. That deal died earlier this year.

A Raffles representative did not respond to a Journal email last week.

The financially troubled SFUAD will close in the spring, leaving the city of Santa Fe plotting the future of the property it bought in 2009 for $19.5 million. It still owes $2.2 million annually in debt service.

City Councilor Mike Harris said the zoning overlay allows for many possibilities, but there is interest in having a higher education component on at least part of the 64 acres.

Should UNM partner with Raffles, UNM would offer the courses with faculty and instructors it hires and “in that sense control content,” Wood said in a written statement. It could include degree programs “that leverage offerings by UNM-Albuquerque, Santa Fe Community College or UNM-Los Alamos,” he added.

Wood said UNM’s accreditation would cover degrees that meet UNM’s standards, are taught by UNM faculty and vetted by UNM’s Faculty Senate.

Raffles describes itself online as “a premier private education provider, owner and manager of educational assets and facilities, and education-linked real estate investor and developer.” It has 25 colleges in 13 countries, with its heaviest presence in China, India and Indonesia.

Abdallah said he’s mindful of UNM’s budgetary challenges — “If doesn’t make financial sense we’re not interested” — and concerns about New Mexico college campus proliferation. The state’s 31 public institutions have a combined 77 access points around the state.

Some faculty members at this week’s meeting raised questions about already under-utilized spaces like UNM West and the financial implications of further expansion. Others, however, showed more optimism.

“As an artist, a musician, I’m pretty darn excited” about the possibility, said Faculty Senate President Pamela Pyle, an associate professor of piano who has toured the Santa Fe grounds and cited the property’s various assets. It houses to Greer Garson Studios, Greer Garson Theatre, The Screen movie theater and a recording studio.

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