University of the Pacific in talks to continue Drexel programs in Sacramento

Continuing the transformation of its Sacramento campus, the University of the Pacific revealed Thursday that it has entered negotiations with Drexel University to continue some of its graduate programs after Drexel leaves the region over the next two years.

The move is part of a broader expansion by the Stockton-based Pacific, which has been developing new graduate offerings at its San Francisco dentistry school and the struggling McGeorge School of Law in Oak Park.

“Sacramento has been our flagship campus for our law school, but we recognize that there are other needs in the region,” Provost Maria Pallavicini said. “We also have been putting up other programs there, taking advantage of the fact that we have a beautiful campus in the capital of California.”

“A three-city university is where we are going,” she said.

Drexel announced earlier this month that it would close its 6-year-old Sacramento satellite to focus on its home campus in Philadelphia. Already interested in growing its Sacramento presence, Pacific approached Drexel about taking over some of its established degrees, which include master’s degrees in business administration, finance and higher education, and a doctorate in educational leadership.

The curriculum is “closely aligned with where Pacific was going,” Pallavicini said. “Drexel has proven programs and a proven market for those programs.”

Pacific is discussing which of those programs it will continue, which faculty and staff it will retain, and how to handle the transition in ongoing talks with Drexel. The approximately 215 students currently enrolled at Drexel will be able to finish through the university, but Pacific will assist with the transition and classes may relocate to open space at McGeorge as part of the deal.

“Pacific would be an ideal partner to help Drexel fulfill our commitment to our Sacramento students,” Drexel President John A. Fry said in a statement. “We would be proud to have a California-focused university carry forward some of the programs that have provided so much value for the Sacramento region.”

Details will likely emerge quickly, as Pacific plans to recruit students for this fall. “It won’t be months that this will be worked out, it will be weeks,” Pallavicini said.

Plans were already underway to add new graduate health and business programs at the McGeorge campus before Thursday’s announcement. Pacific is in the midst of launching master’s degrees in public policy and public administration, as well as a physician’s assistant program.

The university is also rolling out new offerings in audiology, music therapy, analytics and food studies at the San Francisco campus this fall.

Pallavicini said the law school will remain “the kingpin of the Sacramento campus,” but bringing the Drexel programs to McGeorge will create more “interprofessional and interdisciplinary” curricula, allowing students to get perspectives from outside their fields as part of their education.

She said the motivation was to better meet the employment needs of the region, with growing demands in areas like policy administration, Capitol lawyering and health care.

“We look forward to working very closely with the business community,” Pallavicini said, and hopefully providing internships and job opportunities for students.

Job placement has been a weakness for McGeorge recently. About one-third of the class of 2013 was looking for work and couldn’t find it nine months after graduation, up from 19 percent the previous year. While the economy and a glut of programs have hurt employment for law graduates nationwide, only three of California’s 21 accredited law schools had a higher unemployment rate last year than McGeorge.

Poor employment numbers have affected the school’s standing in the influential U.S. News & World Report rankings, where McGeorge dropped 22 spots to 146th in the country last year. It was not ranked on this year’s list.

But there was excitement that the Drexel deal could boost Pacific’s standing in Sacramento and help address McGeorge’s challenges.

“You want to see subsequent alumni do well,” said Daniel Conway, a 2012 McGeorge graduate who works in the office of Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson. “There’s a sense that the school has a lot to offer, and a sense that Sacramento itself is undergoing a transformation and the school can be a part of that.”

Call The Bee’s Alexei Koseff, (916) 321-5236. Follow him on Twitter @akoseff.

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