Online MBA Programs in Real Estate Proliferate

Employment opportunities are robust coming out of Covid, but the big appeal is the push for environmental sustainability in real estate

When Covid emerged, many real estate investors foresaw a great reckoning for a sector that has enjoyed a long economic cycle but whose fortunes tend to dip during economic downturns. However, what did turn out to be a unique property crisis has not been nearly as bad as expected.  

With an enormous amount of capital chasing real estate investments, at a time when bond yields are so low, the market has largely stabilised. That will be welcome news to business schools, which have increasingly focused on this young asset class through the launch of several Online and blended MBA programs.

It is also welcome relief for students taking these programs in preparation for becoming real estate investors, asset managers, developers and entrepreneurs. “Employment has never been more robust than it has been coming out of the pandemic,” says Matthew Cypher, director of the Steers Center for Global Real Estate at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business in Washington, DC.

“In many ways, Covid-19 changed the face of commercial real estate and has created a number of new opportunities as the industry rushes to capitalize on these changes,” he says. “I tell my students that there has never been a more exciting time to be in the commercial real estate industry.”

Georgetown does not run an Online MBA per-say, but it does offer online classes in its Flex MBA, a part-time course delivered over 26-60 months using a combination of face-to-face and online learning. The curriculum includes courses in real estate private equity, development and real estate debt.

A push for environmental sustainability in real estate

Cypher says there are many draws to the industry today, but the push for environmental sustainability in real estate is a huge motivating factor for those taking his classes. “The built environment contributes 40 percent of carbon emissions every year, so there is a huge opportunity to do things differently,” he says.

Many MBA students are also interested in wider social issues in the context of real estate. “The thing that excites me about real estate is that it impacts the way people live, for the good and bad,” says Cypher. “We must create a more equitable society and the real estate industry plays a huge role in this, given the influence it has on how people live.”

Georgetown is far from the only business school focusing on social issues within the context of real estate. UCLA Anderson School of Management in Los Angeles recently launched a training program focused on affordable housing solutions, helping to solve a significant problem in California.

“The affordable housing crisis in California has reached an untenable level,” says Tim Kawahara, founding executive director of the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate. “We have been doing a lot of teaching in the affordable housing space and wanted to find a way to help address the crisis [with an] executive program that will help deliver as many affordable housing and middle income units as possible.”

In addition, UCLA Anderson offers courses in urban real estate financing and investing, among others, to students in the business school’s blended part-time MBA.

Many other leading schools in the US offer similar degree programs: the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School has made many of its long-standing real estate courses available to students in its highly-ranked Online MBA program.

How an Online MBA in real estate works

The course offerings include the basics of construction, capital markets, real estate investment, law and macroeconomics. In addition, students can work as a manager in a number of real estate investment funds. They not only put their academic theory into work in the real markets, but they build relationships with real estate developers and investors.

“The personal networking is something which we stress as being critically important to our students, many of whom get jobs directly through alumni or friends of the real state program,” says David Hartzell, director of the Leonard W. Wood Center for Real Estate Studies at UNC.

A significant feature of real estate programs at other business schools is the way they incorporate real-world experiences into the learning process. “Real estate is among the easiest disciplines to incorporate real-world learning, given that the built environment touches everything we do, every day,” says Georgetown’s Cypher.

Georgetown has created a program called Steers Advisory Services where students work on real projects for real companies. These projects have been focused on environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors including net-zero construction and urban farming as a path to employment and affordable housing.

“This semester we will be working on projects that determine the carbon footprint of an apartment REIT (real estate investment trust) as well as using artificial intelligence and machine learning to predict the effects of climate change on individual buildings,” adds Cypher.

UNC’s Hartzell says a big part of the appeal of his program is the breadth of the career opportunities on offer. “Our students go to work in real estate investment banking, private equity and investment management, or development or lending,” he says. “Having a real estate education as well as being exposed to all of the functional areas of an MBA opens a lot of doors across the commercial real estate industry.”

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