Thursday, March 5, 2015

Drexel Closes in Sacramento. What about Warwick?

In recent weeks, many conversations I have had in Sacramento have turned to the University of Warwick's announcement that they are going to establish a campus in south Placer County.  There are a mix of views but I would say the Warwick skeptics slightly outnumber the believers in my informal conversations.

Undoubtedly, today's news that Drexel is closing its Sacramento campus bolsters the skeptical view. After all, Warwick's plan is very similar, and based on the same gift of property, as Drexel's abandoned plan.  And the national higher ed headline this week is that Sweet Briar College in Virginia is closing despite a beautiful campus and a $93 million endowment adds more evidence that private, residential colleges are in financial trouble across the country and supports the view that it would be foolish to consider starting a new one.

Personally, I remain very positive about the potential for higher education growth in Sacramento in spite of the well-documented challenges in the sector.  I think one or more new campuses can succeed in Sacramento or Northern California, even if a hundred small private colleges close in the East and Midwest over the next decade.  And I think Warwick can be very successful in south Placer County, although there is a chance they could pull out like Drexel as their phased plan has several points for them to reevaluate before significant investment is made in the physical campus.

The memory of Drexel's closure is undoubtedly going to create challenges for Warwick's planned start-up phase of offering graduate programs in leased space.  Potential students may be reluctant to enroll in a University that they aren't sure will still be there in 5 years, and given Drexel's history and confusion with troubled for-profits in leased office buildings around the area, those doubts will persist until Warwick can show tangible investment in the campus.

Successful private universities in the Sacramento area will need to have a compelling non-monetary reason to be here, solid and patient financial backing, some visibility and connection with the Bay Area, and have the ability and desire to attract students from outside the local area.  Drexel had no compelling reason to be here and sensibly closed, but I still think Warwick and others have an opportunity to succeed.

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