A New Approach to Real Estate Education

Elizabeth Small Commentary

A New Approach to Real Estate Education

As the former president and CEO of PDC Cos. and PDC Construction, I know the value of a realistic perspective when it comes to commercial real estate in Arkansas. When I made the decision to join the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 2017, I brought that realism with me, knowing my role as educator would be an important one.

UA Little Rock’s School of Business began its real estate program in the 1970s, but with the help of industry partners I’ve worked hard to create a new, modern real estate degree — one that has a realistic, work-ready mentality at its core.

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The UA Little Rock real estate program is housed in the School of Business, and, uniquely, it is also a complement to the construction management program. That means we can offer real estate students a built environment track and, inversely, offer construction students a marketing track. We also created a straight finance track that fits the mortgage lending and financial advising aspirations of many students.

Within the course of their degree plan, we also offer specific certifications and licensure to get them industry-ready before graduation. Examples include a certificate of proficiency in construction development or a professional sales certificate. This ensures students have the full picture of the two separate industries and how they overlap.

This matters because the construction industry in Arkansas is experiencing rapid changes. The Associated General Contractors of America analysis of new government data showed construction employment in Arkansas increased by 5,500 to 61,900 jobs in the 12-month span that ended in April. That’s a lot of economic development potential. The more real estate students learn about construction and vice versa, the stronger the employment pool will be for employers and investors.

That’s why we need a realistic approach to education. My goal has always been to create graduates who not only know the technicalities, but also fully recognize the big picture. We realized we could do better at UA Little Rock by integrating classroom education with experiential learning.

Real-world experience starts in the classroom, but goes beyond. Students are involved in entrepreneurial activities and development projects and benefit from panels of executives with strong footholds experience in the real estate industry. The program promotes research in real estate issues and policy to expose students to regulatory issues involving meaningful choices in support of the real estate profession in Arkansas.

In February, the Commercial Real Estate Council of Metro Little Rock awarded the real estate program the Commercial Real Estate Impact Award. Council Executive Director Susan Hill Gele said the “impact [of the program] on workforce development is clear from the students and graduates who have interned or accepted full-time positions with local real estate companies.”

She’s right. Our board members have hired graduates, provided internships, shared stories, served as coaches for our competitive teams, and attended student capstone presentations. The advice these professionals give brings the “real world” to each student’s individual reality.

When we teach students to take hold of technical knowledge, real-world experience and regulatory research, they enter the workforce ready to work and successfully navigate the evolving industries of construction and real estate in Arkansas.

Elizabeth Small is the instructor of real estate and director of business networks at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock School of Business, Economics/Finance Department.