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More students sold on studying real estate

Like the market itself, real-estate education is hot. But some experts warn this industry is headed for a decline.

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That's why Christopher Magalhaes, a junior economics major at New York University, is working toward a noncredit real estate certificate. He may not pursue real estate as a career, but he feels it's crucial to have a good understanding of as many fields as possible.

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"It's important because I know that some day I may want to buy a house," says Mr. Magalhaes.

"I may also want to try my hand in commercial real estate at some point in my life, so I don't want to limit myself." This year, more than 5,000 students enrolled in NYU's Real Estate Institute - an increase of 500 from 2000.

While real estate schools specifically train students to sell houses, most college programs concentrate on the commercial end - appraisals, development, investments, and management.

About 10 years ago, only about 30 colleges offered real estate degree programs. Today, that number has more than doubled to 62, according to Don Moliver, director of the Real Estate Institute at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, N.J.

At Monmouth, professionals can enroll in an MBA program with a specialization in real estate. The school also plans to add an undergraduate degree in the future. "It's something that is growing," says Mr. Moliver, "and I'm pleased to say that if you look at schools that offer real estate, they really are among the best in the country."

Although universities are adding to their programs, they have actually been slow to respond to the real- estate boom, says Moliver, because in some circles, the old perception that it's a trade and not a profession still exists.

"In the early days, the genesis of it was primarily women, maybe on a part-time basis who were selling houses and the commercial side was only men," he says.

"Today, it's a highly competitive industry and most of the people in the industry got their education by the seat of their pants. What we have is a lot of seasoned folks who are saying, 'Let's take these young people who are joining the industry and send them out for training.' "

It's evident there is a demand for educated professionals. In the past year, DePaul has received a record number of job listings in the field, from investment to mortgage lending companies, says Susanne Cannon, director of the university's three-year-old real estate center at DePaul.

By the end of this academic year, about 300 students will have taken an introductory real estate analysis course already offered at DePaul, up from 266 the year before. At least 50 students now declare real estate as their major.

"As industry has moved from the cowboy developer and the small-shop real estate broker into much larger institutional investors, the demand for qualified professionals in all areas of real estate continues to escalate," says Ms. Cannon.

This is welcome news for Lopera. When he hears chatter about the real- estate bubble bursting, he doesn't want to believe it. He hopes to one day invest in Chicago condominiums and to buy land in Arizona and Texas and develop it.

"I don't see it bursting, but at the same time, I do see areas of Chicago that might be overdeveloped," says Lopera. But if it doesn't work out as a career, "I'll always be able to use the degree for myself because I will personally want to invest in real estate."