From Singapore to Santa Fe

An education company based in the Asian state seeks to buy the Santa Fe University of Art and Design.

May 19, 2016
Courtesy of Santa Fe University of Art and Design.

A Singaporean education company with 30 colleges in 13 countries plans to expand into the U.S. with its purchase of an art college in Santa Fe.

Raffles Education Corporation on Wednesday announced its intention to purchase the 900-student Santa Fe University of Art and Design, which since 2009 has been affiliated with Laureate Education, a Baltimore-based for-profit college company. Raffles currently operates campuses throughout the Asia Pacific region -- in Australia, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Thailand -- as well as in Saudi Arabia and Switzerland.

A notice of the proposed purchase states as the rationale that it would enable Raffles “to acquire a fully fledged and duly accredited institution for higher education in the United States of America. … The proposed acquisition will allow [Raffles Education Corporation] to expand into the United States and leverage its extensive student base in Asia.”

The planned deal, which could be finalized by the end of the year, is contingent on approval by Raffles shareholders and U.S. accreditation and regulatory authorities. The Santa Fe University of Art and Design is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

The New Mexico university, which offers undergraduate degrees in business, contemporary music, creative writing, digital arts, graphic design, film, performing arts, photography and studio art, is currently part of Laureate’s network of universities, which is made up of more than 80 colleges in 28 countries.

Laureate does not, however, own the university, which is owned by a subsidiary of Laureate's controlling shareholder. Laureate has since 2009 contracted with the university to provide various academic and support services.

A Laureate spokesman, Adam Smith, said the company will continue to provide services to the Santa Fe University of Art and Design during the transition period.

The Santa Fe University of Art and Design was salvaged from the dust of the former College of Santa Fe, which announced its intention to close in 2009. At that time the city of Santa Fe agreed to purchase the land on which the campus sits and to lease the majority of the land to Laureate for a 27-year term, at $2.35 million per year.

Matt Ross, a spokesman for the city, said the city will continue to own the land on which the university sits and that the terms of the lease have not changed. The city is not a party to the proposed sale.

“We are steadfast in our commitment to having a thriving art and design university in the heart of Santa Fe,” the mayor, Javier M. Gonzales, said in a university news release announcing the sale. “We are excited about this potential new partnership and the opportunities ahead for our community, as the university joins an international network that specializes in art and design education.”

Chew Hua Seng, the CEO and co-founder of Raffles, said in the news release that the company plans to expand the university’s program offerings, strengthen student services and invest in the physical infrastructure.

U.S.-based for-profit college companies have sought to expand their footprints abroad -- most notably DeVry University in Brazil and Laureate nearly everywhere -- but this deal underscores the interest of foreign education companies in gaining footholds in the U.S.

“What’s surprising is there haven’t been more deals like this,” said Michael B. Goldstein, co-chair of the higher education practice for the Cooley law firm.

“I think you’re going to see more,” he said. “This is an attractive market. Foreign companies that are getting active in education are looking in this direction.”


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