NationalEmployerAugust 30, 2021 Matthew Rothstein, Jarred Schenke, and Bianca Barragan
The commercial real estate industry is aware of its lack of racial diversity, and many of its biggest companies say they are working to grow the pipeline of people of color into the business. But one oft-cited source of potential employees doesn’t have the infrastructure to support that pipeline at present — not even close.
A review of current course catalogs from each of the accredited Historically Black Colleges and Universities found that none have a real estate major or concentration for bachelor or graduate degrees. Only 26 offer real estate-specific classes for credit, at least four offers non-credit continuing education classes, and two historically Black community colleges offer vocational programs in real estate.
The Hundred-Seven, an HBCU-focused nonprofit, lists three schools as offering real estate programs on its website: Lawson State Community College, which offers a vocational certificate, and Allen University and St. Augustine’s University. Allen doesn’t list any real estate programs or courses on its catalog; representatives for the school didn’t respond to requests for comment.
St. Augustine’s eliminated its real estate program in 2017, the dean of the school of business, management, and technology, Van Sapp, told Bisnow.
“Many of our students are unaware of commercial real estate opportunities,” he wrote in an email.
It comes as no surprise to Jeffrey Molavi, the interim chair of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore’s Department of the Built Environment, that most HBCUs don’t offer real estate programming. Black families have historically been frozen out of the generational wealth-building afforded White households through homeownership and investment in real estate, and HBCU course offerings are a reflection of the perceived pathways to upward mobility in an economy that still carries the legacy of systemic racism.
“Most African American students don’t like the sales position,” Molavi said. “And this is my opinion: The sales position is based on the social and economic structure of the country and culture. So they want to work in a place where they’ll be recognized and get steady paychecks. So in my opinion, real estate is not very popular among African American students.”
For HBCUs, which have been chronically underfunded, starting new courses is an expensive proposition. The schools focus what resources they have on expanding their offerings in subjects with a clearer pathway to jobs and/or demonstrated interest from incoming students.
“Nothing is free. It costs money to set up courses,” National Historically Black Colleges & Universities Foundation President Ty Couey said. “And then there’s always that gamble that students may not be interested. So it’s like a Catch-22.”
For HBCUs to establish themselves as an industry feeder system, they would require participation on a wider scale and more consistent basis from commercial real estate companies than the industry has ever demonstrated in the service of improving diversity among its ranks, multiple HBCU alumni who work in commercial real estate told Bisnow.
“I would argue, whatever time, money, resources that you’re committing to Harvard Business School or Wharton or whatever place you think you’re mining superior talent for your company or industry, if you were to try and do the same thing with an HBCU, you could probably get similar results,” said Michael Banner, president and CEO of Los Angeles LDC, a nonprofit community development financial institution.