More Students Sold on Studying Real Estate ; like the Market Itself, Real-Estate Education Is Hot. but Some Experts Warn This Industry Is Headed for a Decline

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After watching Chicago real estate explode in the past five years, college senior Jorge Lopera was inspired to learn more about the commercial market. Yet when he started at DePaul University three years ago, there weren't many opportunities for undergraduates.

Much to Mr. Lopera's delight, DePaul is offering a new bachelor of science degree in real estate starting this month.

Now Lopera has six months to squeeze in all the required credits to graduate in June with a double major in finance and real estate.

"With the real estate major, you're seeing the whole investment- analysis side," says Lopera, who is enrolled in real estate law and urban-planning development courses. "I'm getting completely different exposure through these courses."

Real-estate education is red hot, thanks to a booming real- estate market nationwide. As a result, colleges everywhere are adding new programs and building on existing ones to keep up with industry and student demand.

Some experts warn, however, that the market may have hit its peak - and the field could be headed for a decline.

"If you went back to the late 1990s, you probably saw very similar situations with classes in the securities industry for stockbrokers or Internet-related enterprises," says Peter Schiff, president of Euro Pacific Capital, an investment firm based in Newport Beach, Calif.

"The real-estate industry is going to be one of the worst industries to be associated with in the next 10 to 20 years. We are in a major bubble."

Instead, Mr. Schiff says, students should turn their attention to agriculture, horticulture, engineering, and foreign languages, such as Mandarin.

"That's where a lot of trading and wealth is going to be emanating from the world," he says.

"The US needs to move back to a wealth-producing, manufacturing, and exporting economy."

But as long as people demand space for businesses, there will be a market for leasing and selling, determining value, and issuing loans, says Gerard Mildner, professor of urban studies and planning at Portland State University in Oregon.

"There's an old saying about the legal profession - they can make money in good markets and bad markets, either forming new companies or managing bankruptcies," says Professor Mildner.

"In some ways, the real estate industry is similarly insulated. There's obviously more money to be made in a strong market where you're developing new properties, but not everybody is developing properties. A fair number are managing properties."

Last spring, Portland State started offering an undergraduate degree in real estate finance and a minor in real estate development. Mildner was instrumental in creating the university's Real Estate Center and he also helped set up the graduate certificate program.

"Sometimes real estate gets overlooked by business schools and undergrads," says Mildner, "perhaps because it's not as sexy as other parts of corporate America. But one of the things that these degree programs can do for people is to help them see over their small segment and broaden their career horizon."

That's why Christopher Magalhaes, a junior economics major at New York University, is working toward a noncredit real estate certificate. …