ORLANDO, FL — More opportunities to get a post-high school education in Orlando will be available to area residents, as the InterAmerican University of Puerto Rico has unveiled plans to open a new bilingual campus in Lake Nona for the 2022-23 academic year, this media outlet confirmed.
The proposed campus will sit on 17 acres of land with plans for 187,000 square feet of academic and administrative buildings as well as on-site student housing (192 student beds). The college plans to have 2,000 students, in-person and online by year five.
Founded in 1912, the InterAmerican University is a private Christian university with nine campuses and two specialty schools across Puerto Rico. It would be the university’s first campus outside of Puerto Rico. The college is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution in Florida.
The proposed campus is located in Lake Nona in southeast Orange County near a cluster of the region’s top higher education institutions including the University of Central Florida, University of Florida, and Valencia College. The site is also next to a 55-acre parcel owned by Orange County Public Schools.
The location provides easy access for students and faculty from both Orange and Osceola Counties with connections to SR-417 and proximity to Orlando International Airport. There will be one entrance located off of J. Lawson Blvd.
Executives from the InterAmerican University and Tavistock, a development company in Lake Nona, met virtually with Orange County District 4 Commissioner Maribel Gómez-Cordero on Aug. 19. Last week, they had a community meeting with the Planning Division of Orange County government, with the participation of 38 citizens.
The InterAmerican University currently operates a small educational facility in Hunter’s Creek that primarily serves online students. With the new campus, the college will be able to expand undergraduate and graduate programming to include new areas of study (such as nursing, behavioral psychology, and computer science) enhanced by proximity to Lake Nona Medical City and access Lake Nona’s emerging technology and 5G network.
Luis Sánchez, executive director of Centros de Estudios Cibernéticos at InterAmerican University of Puerto Rico, said the decision to open a full campus in Central Florida responds to “huge student demand,” from the center that opened in 2007 in the Hunter’s Creek area, in south Orlando.
The new IUPR campus would create nearly 100 new jobs for full-time and part-time administrative and facility positions.
Public hearing slated for year’s end
In an interview with News is my Business, Gómez-Cordero confirmed it is important to hear from her constituents on the upcoming plans.
“I want to hear the input from the community. There are good ideas, companies from Puerto Rico investing in Central Florida. It’s in my district in Lake Nona and as I always like to do, it’s important for me to hear first from the community and what kind of input they have of what’s going to happen there,” she said.
Her next step is to submit a motion and move it forward for public hearing on the Orange County Board of Commissioners agenda. The meeting is expecting to take place in November or December, she said.
“They mainly wanted to bring the nursing curriculum because the medical city in Lake Nona is nearby and that would be an asset for them,” Gómez-Cordero said.
The proposed campus development plan drastically reduces the existing, approved entitlement plan in Lake Nona, which is currently zoned for industrial developments. The plan proposes the addition of a new use (student housing) and a moderate increase in multifamily units for the region, which is unrelated to the InterAmerican University’s plans.
Meanwhile, Orange County District 2 Commissioner Antonio “Tony” Ortiz, a Puerto Rico native, expressed his support of the university’s plans.
“Bringing that great institution such as the InterAmerican University of Puerto Rico means expanding its wings to this area that many say is the 79th municipality of Puerto Rico. That’s something we must celebrate,” he said. “There’s a lot of pride, a lot of enthusiasm because our population is growing in an incredible way and that’s the power of influence.”
“The economic impact, the Latino investment in Central Florida makes us see that even in these difficult times, people are investing. It means that they see the potential, the roots that are here and how healthy it is to invest in this region,” he added.
Kissimmee Mayor José Álvarez also applauded the expansion of companies from Puerto Rico despite the difficult times.
“We have many companies that are expanding and not only to Orlando, but also to Kissimmee and that’s incredibly good,” he said.
“We have a partnership with UCF and Puerto Rico that is helping us get these companies to come here and expand their businesses, the important thing is that they don’t close in Puerto Rico — we’re helping them expand to Central Florida,” Álvarez said.