Dual-language university applies to open location in Westfield Wheaton
Ana G. Mendez University System proposed 12 degree programs for former Circuit City location
Westfield Wheaton Shopping Center may soon be home to a dual-language university geared toward working Spanish-speaking students who want to strengthen their English skills for the workplace, a county official said.
Ana G. Mendez University System, a nonprofit school based in Puerto Rico, applied for licensure last month through the Maryland Higher Education Commission, according to the commission's website. Next month, it should hear back as to whether the university can open a location in the former home of Wheaton's Circuit City, the site says.
Raul Medrano, a business development specialist within the county's Department of Economic Development, said university officials used census data and voter records to identify Wheaton as a diverse area that would be well-suited for the branch campus. Montgomery County's Council District 5, which includes Wheaton, is home to the county's highest percentage of minorities, and it is 25.5 percent Hispanic, according to the 2010 U.S. Census statistics.
Westfield Wheaton is also located at a transportation hub, where people can easily Metro or drive in from Maryland, Virginia and the District, Medrano said.
The university's students tend to be female heads of household who work during the day, Medrano said. Most classes offered would be in the late afternoon and evening, he said.
"People who fit that demographic tend to want to be somewhere that's well-lit and with amenities for shopping, where they can run errands after work," he said.
Program offerings have not been finalized, but Medrano said university officials were looking at focusing on business and health care professions. The university applied to offer 12 programs for associated, bachelor's and master's degrees in its dual-language program, according to the Maryland Higher Education Commission website.
The university system, which has locations in Puerto Rico and Florida, is the first to offer a dual-language program in the United States, Medrano said. The system includes three universities: Universidad Metropolitana, Universidad del Este and Universidad del Turabo. The system is looking into opening a location in Colorado, he said.
University officials also visited locations in downtown Silver Spring, Rockville, Germantown and Gaithersburg before deciding on Wheaton, Medrano said. The university system official who has been working with county officials on the proposal could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.
In dual-language classes, students may learn the nuts and bolts in Spanish but have to give oral presentations in English, he said, making it a popular option for students who primarily speak Spanish but want to improve their English language skills.
Medrano said the university would benefit Wheaton as redevelopment moves forward. The university would create jobs, serve the diverse community, provide meeting space for the community and create a marketable community of bilingual employees, he said.