Friday, September 12, 2008
Drexel: Big plans in works despite sluggish economy
Sacramento Business Journal - by Melanie Turner Staff writer
Drexel University president Constantine Papadakis continues to lay the groundwork for a four-year campus near Roseville next week, when he celebrates a graduate school in downtown set to open in January.
He called the graduate center at One Capitol Mall a “first step,” saying its success is a “prerequisite with us moving forward with a full-fledged university effort in Placer County.”
The timing may be perfect for the graduate center, which will offer courses for adults looking to add value to their résumés during the current economic downturn. The flip side is that it could mean Papadakis’ vision for a 600-acre campus near Roseville will have to wait.
The Roseville campus would be built next to 557 acres that could be developed for housing to finance the four-year university. The land would be donated by the Angelo K. Tsakopoulos family, William and Claudia Cummings and the Wayne L. Prim family.
“The market is not conducive to selling real estate,” Papadakis said. “We have to wait maybe two or three years to allow the sale of 550 acres to take place at an attractive rate so that money can fund the rest of the initiative.”
“It’s important to maximize those proceeds,” added Julie Hanson, the project manager representing the land donors.
Papadakis said the economy is “not necessarily going to delay things.” It takes two to three years to recruit high school students for the first freshman class, plus it will take time to convince Drexel’s board of trustees to proceed with the project and secure land entitlements.
By that time, he said he believes the economy will improve.
The land donors are working to get the matter in front of the Board of Supervisors before the end of the year, Hanson said. The board would consider approving a specific plan outlining the land use and zoning for approximately 1,150 acres.
Papadakis sees the Sacramento region as an opportunity to expand the 117-year-old doctoral research university in Philadelphia into a growing market.
During Papadakis’ four-day visit next week, the nation’s sixth-largest private university will host an invitation-only gala Wednesday for business and community leaders and alumni at the Tsakopoulos Library Galleria in the Central Sacramento Public Library.
“We are ready to go,” Papadakis said of the graduate school.
In January, master’s programs designed for working adults will be offered in business administration, engineering management, higher education, information systems, and library and information science.
Four programs will be added in September 2009 in nursing education and faculty role, nursing leadership in health systems management, science of instruction, and human resource development.
If Sacramento’s program works, Drexel wants to develop as many as four more graduate centers over the next six years, in other high-growth areas such as Phoenix, Miami or Los Angeles.
“Nobody has ever opened another network of graduate centers in the United States,” Papadakis said.
The hard-driving university president said he’s proud of how quickly Drexel has been able to establish a presence here, along with a $10 million scholarship fund.
“Usually, those things don’t happen so fast in academia,” he said.
Since Papadakis’ first visit to the region a year ago, he’s met with more than 90 executives of area companies and organizations, from Hewlett-Packard Co. and Sutter Health to Wachovia Corp. and the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce.
“The reception we have received has been heartwarming and has made us feel welcome,” he said. “We know we are going to bring value ... to the city and the community.”
The 62-year-old former Bechtel Corp. executive is known for running the university like a company, calling students “customers” and promoting for-profit online learning.
In his 13 years leading Drexel, the university has been transformed from one that was low on funds and in disrepair to a financially stable university with a $700 million annual budget, the nation’s largest private medical school and a law school. Full-time undergraduate enrollment has doubled to 12,000, with 21,000 total students, and the university’s endowment has grown from $90 million to $640 million.
Drexel sought to crack the top 100 on U.S. News & World Report’s college rankings and did so this year, jumping 19 spots to No. 89.
In the Sacramento region, Drexel invested at least $1 million in the past year marketing its brand. Papadakis points to Roseville’s ranking among the “100 Best Places to Live” in Money magazine’s August issue as proof that people are starting to talk about Drexel. Roseville ranked 90th on the list. The magazine said the city “boasts lots of good jobs,” and “What’s more, Sacramento State University and Philadelphia’s Drexel University have explored opening satellite campuses here.”
Marketing, Forging ties
Drexel wants to prove the value of its brand with its graduate center.
Although it’s opening at a time when the economy continues to slump, Papadakis said the downturn will help since the programs are geared toward working adults. It’s during down times that people tend to seek better careers or upgrade their skills, he said.
The graduate courses are just the beginning, he said, adding that Drexel is not just going to “teach a few courses downtown.”
“It’s going to be a relationship with the community,” he said. Drexel will bring speakers, sponsor seminars to address issues of importance to the community and form local partnerships.
For example, he said, Drexel’s School of Public Health won a $14.3 million federal grant in April to study environmental risk factors for autism in pregnant mothers and their babies.
“I’m going to have our researchers from Philadelphia visit the (University of California Davis) M.I.N.D. Institute in October to see if we can coordinate some work together,” he said.
Drexel has forged at least one partnership already with the Sacramento Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Together with the chamber, Drexel will offer free tuition for a master’s degree once a year to a Hispanic professional.
Diana Borroel, president and chief executive officer for the Hispanic Chamber, said a final selection is expected in time for the first award recipient to start a graduate program in January.
Joe Womack, vice president for university advancement at William Jessup University, said the four-year Christian university in Rocklin is “cheering them on.”
“We’d be very excited for Drexel to be in the area,” he said. “The Sacramento metropolitan area, despite having two wonderful state universities, is underserved with regard to higher education.”
Drexel, he said, would complement California State University Sacramento and UC Davis, as well as community colleges such as Sierra College.
University of the Pacific provost Phil Gilbertson also said he welcomes more higher education to this region that is “seriously underserved.”
“I’m just pleased that we’ve got a school of Drexel’s stature looking to develop a university in Sacramento,” he said. “Having competition from nationally ranked universities is our way of life.”