Back to School: A Wide Range of Graduate and Undergraduate Programs in Real Estate Finance Are Being Offered at Universities around the Country. Here's a Rundown of Some of Them. (Education)

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EDUCATION HAS ALWAYS BEEN IMPORTANT TO THE REAL ESTATE FINANCE INDUSTRY. Recent years have seen growth in university real estate courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. The development of complex funding instruments has provided still more fodder for academics and university programs. * Continuing education in all aspects of real estate finance also is in demand. Such programs are available through the Mortgage Bankers Association of America (MBA) and other industry groups. These targeted courses have become a mainstay for entry into both the upper echelons of mortgage management as well as into entry-level and middle-management positions. * "In the last 20 years, there has been a financial revolution in this country," says Peter F. Colwell, professor of finance and the director of the Office of Real Estate Research at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. "And as a result, the education universe has had to adapt." * "There are a lot of structural changes that have been going on in the real estate industry," says Lynne Sagalyn, professor of finance and economics at Columbia Business School, New York. "You need a new set of tools."

The universities have responded to this new environment, Colwell says, by incorporating into academic programs such techniques as financial engineering and the use of options and futures. Educators, he says, are aware of the industry's need to create new contracts and to adapt existing mortgage structures. The result, according to Colwell, has been a richer and more challenging teaching environment. "It's not so easy, actually, to teach these new concepts," he says. "They're not always apparent."

The business of buying and developing property is now at the center of some of the great public issues of the day: managing growth, making the most efficient use of energy and conserving the environment.

According to Sagalyn, real estate is multidisciplinary. "Yes, we are in a business school," she says. "And yes, we are teaching a heavily finance- and investment-oriented view of real estate. But you can't look at real estate without paying attention to all of the social, cultural and institutional [context] in which real estate takes place."

MBA is involved in educational activities ranging from the publishing of books and the sponsorship of weeklong courses to Internet-based instruction, known as CampusMBA (www.campusmba.org).

CampusMBA has more than 28,000 students, according to Dan Thoms, MBA's vice president for education and business development. "We have just had some phenomenal growth," Thoms says.

According to Thoms, CampusMBA has a number of product lines. They include about 40 Web-based self-study courses, print-based correspondence courses, interactive audio programs designed to be presented in far-flung conference rooms, and classroom-based courses. Courses deal with such disparate subjects as appraisals, the basics of prequalifying and the skills loan officers and mortgage brokers should have. The program is also pushing into real estate finance.

CampusMBA's classroom-based courses tend to last from two-and-a-half to four days, in line with the preference of the participants. MBA also offers its week-long School of Mortgage Banking, in which, Thoms says, students are "totally engulfed." Thoms says MBA's classroom-based courses have key distinguishers: They have clear objectives and assessment procedures, they draw on the expertise of leaders in the mortgage industry and they "leverage the Internet in what we call a blended learning."

MBA also produces books and publications. Thoms says MBA has trimmed its book total from about 200 to about 80, getting rid of titles that were deemed to have lost their relevance. Thoms believes that content tends to have a shelf life of two to three years. And for material related to a new law, he says, the window could be as short as 6o days. "One of the biggest challenges is keeping our content updated and robust," he says. …