Drexel to close Sacramento campus

Drexel University set up its West Coast branch at One Capitol Mall.
Drexel University set up its West Coast branch at One Capitol Mall. Sacramento Bee file

Drexel University of Philadelphia said Thursday it is closing down its Sacramento campus, ending a six-year experiment to create a university with a presence on both coasts.

After struggling to raise its visibility among Sacramentans, the school said its board of trustees voted unanimously to phase out its degree programs in Sacramento to focus on the home campus 2,800 miles away.

The shutdown won’t be immediate. Drexel said the 215 students currently enrolled will be allowed to finish their degree programs, a process that could take anywhere from 18 months to two years.

The university will immediately stop accepting new students. Drexel Sacramento began primarily as a graduate business school but now offers several degrees at the campus, including public health and educational leadership and management.

In an email to faculty and staff, Drexel President John Fry said “it became more and more apparent that our efforts in Sacramento no longer advance our mission as a research university. Moving forward, we believe Drexel can best serve students and society through degree programs in Philadelphia and online.” He said the university needs to “better focus on pressing priorities.”

Drexel enrolls a total of about 26,000 students.

Michael Marion, executive director and associate vice provost of the Sacramento campus, said the decision was made Wednesday by the board of trustees, meeting in Philadelphia. “Drexel University is realigining their focus right now on their (operations) in Philadelphia,” said Marion, who took over the Sacramento campus seven months ago.

Marion said he will focus his efforts “on our students during this difficult time,” making sure everyone in the pipeline graduates.

Drexel was trying to break into a market where two incumbent universities, UC Davis and Sacramento State, already have large and well-established graduate schools in business administration.

Tim Rosales, a public relations executive who got his master’s degree in business administration from Drexel Sacramento, said he understood that Drexel was having a difficult time establishing a high-profile presence in the region.

“They always had a kind of tough hill to climb on the West Coast,” said Rosales, a 2013 graduate and vice president with the Wayne Johnson Agency in Sacramento. “It is a tough market.”

Rosales said he believed Drexel officials in Philadelphia made a concerted effort to make the Sacramento program work. Professors were flown out to Sacramento to teach classes a couple of days a week, and then flown back to the East Coast.

“We’ve always had that bond, and tie, with the Philly campus,” Rosales said. He said attending Drexel was “one of the best decisions I ever made. ... At the end of the day, I’m a proud Drexel Dragon.”

Mayor Kevin Johnson, who attended Drexel’s opening ceremonies in Sacramento six years ago, said on Twitter: “I want to thank them for all they’ve done. They have been great partners with our community.”

Drexel originally was in discussions with Sacramento land developer Angelo K. Tsakopoulos about building a major campus in Placer County, near Roseville. While that plan was still in the discussion stages, the university opened a small graduate school in early 2009 at an office building owned by the Tsakopoulos family on Capitol Mall in Old Sacramento.

Drexel’s president at the time, the late Constantine Papadakis, was an acquaintance of Tsakopoulos. Papadakis died several months after the Old Sacramento campus opened.

The university expected the Old Sacramento site to be the launching pad for its Placer project, a way to test a community that seemed like fertile ground. “Now that we’ve looked here, it’s pretty ideal for us,” said Carl “Tobey” Oxholm III, the university’s executive vice president, in an interview a few months before the Old Sacramento campus opened. “The kind of economic growth you’re projecting is in our sweet spot.”

As it turned out, the Placer campus never got off the ground, and the Capitol Mall office building remained Drexel’s only presence in the Sacramento area. The $10 million campus opened in January 2009 with around 60 students and held its first graduation in June 2011.

Drexel Sacramento offers six master’s degrees, including business administration, finance, higher education and medical science; a doctorate degree; and a post-baccalaureate degree. In 2013, it launched its first undergraduate degree program, offering a bachelor’s in business administration, for students completing the last two years of their undergraduate education.

Still, the campus has remained fairly small. The Drexel Sacramento website lists 36 faculty members and an administrative staff of 15.

“We appreciate the contributions that Drexel University has made to the greater Sacramento community, providing high-quality education to hundreds of people,” the Tsakopoulos family said in a statement released by a spokesman. “We certainly would have preferred that Drexel remain a part of our community for the long term.”

Plenty of U.S. universities have established satellite branches overseas in recent years, and some have created U.S. locations far from the home campus. The University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious Wharton School, for example, offers graduate business degrees at a site near the Embarcadero in San Francisco.

However, some schools have retreated from this far-flung strategy; Virginia’s George Mason University made headlines when it closed its United Arab Emirates campus in 2009. Schools are running into the difficult logistics of operating a satellite hundreds or thousands of miles away, said Jason Lane, a professor of educational administration and policy at State University of New York, Albany.

“They jump in, thinking it’ll be as easy as it would be operating across the street. They find out it’s quite difficult,” Lane said.

While Drexel’s attempt to establish a presence in California is ending, another university far away from Sacramento has stepped in with its own plan to build a satellite campus on the same Placer land contemplated by Drexel years ago.

The University of Warwick in Coventry, England, last month gave the green light to a plan to build on land outside Roseville donated by a partnership led by the Tsakopoulos family. About half of the 1,159-acre parcel would house the school; the rest would be developed with housing to generate money to build the campus.

Peter Dunn, a spokesman for Warwick, said Drexel’s troubles in the Sacramento area won’t discourage the British school.

“It doesn’t give us pause at all,” Dunn said. “What we’re bringing is a different experience, a very different business plan. ... We’re offering a very British, European, innovative way of doing things. (Students) will be intrigued by that difference. It’s an international experience.”

Warwick has outlined plans to start offering classes at temporary space in a few years, and build the campus to full strength, serving 6,000 students, by 2031.

Call The Bee’s Dale Kasler, (916) 321-1066. Follow him on Twitter @dakasler.

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