Two years ago, George Lane, chairman of Lane Co. in Atlanta, taught a property management class at the University of Georgia. About 60 students showed up. This year, more than 200 students attended Lane's guest lecture. Taking a cue from this heightened interest, multifamily industry leaders and associations now are working with colleges and universities across the country to help establish and fund four-year degree programs in residential property management.

Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., became the first school to offer such a degree in 1986. Since then, a handful of schools have followed suit, including Florida State, Indiana's Ball State, and the University of North Texas. Several schools are also in the process of developing similar programs, thanks to the support of groups like the National Apartment Association as well as local apartment associations and educational foundations.

  Lane Co., which owns, manages, and develops multifamily properties, is donating $150,000 through the Georgia Apartment Education Foundation for the development of four-year degree programs at both the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech. "We are donating this money because at the end of the day, we need new talent in the industry," says Bill Donges, Lane's CEO.

Brad Forrester, president of the ConAm Group of Cos. in San Diego, recently convinced San Diego State to add a major in residential property management–the first program of its kind on the West Coast. "I think the multifamily business is kind of far behind the commercial business in terms of growing people out of college and showing them a career path in property management," he says. San Diego State plans to roll out a few classes this year, with more to follow.

These programs, typically offered through business schools or housing and resource management departments, are designed to expose students to a wide range of management topics and prepare them for leadership roles. Classes include everything from real estate law and building systems to cultural awareness and issues in aging. "It's a degree that exposes [students] to a lot more than just property management," says Rosemary Carucci Goss, the residential property management advisory board professor at Virginia Tech. "We want these people to come out to be broadly educated and to be thinkers."

Internships also play a critical role in these programs. Virginia Tech students are required to a complete a 240-hour internship. And multifamily companies take these internships seriously. KSI Management Corp., based in Centreville, Va., developed a 12-week summer program for Virginia Tech interns, who tackle topics from rent collection to ancillary income. "We really want to make sure students get a feel for every single aspect in the industry," says Cecille Santos, KSI's sales and marketing manger and a graduate of Virginia Tech's program.

Direct_Reports2.jpg(300) Of course, setting up new majors at schools isn't easy. In addition to getting financial support, one of the biggest challenges is finding professors with a property management background who also meet university requirements of having a Ph.D., says Goss of Virginia Tech.

To establish more degree programs, ConAm's Forrester encourages the multifamily industry to put forth a more unified effort. "I think this is where the National Multi Housing Council and the National Apartment Association could take a lead on making sure we are not all duplicating efforts," he says. "But again, I just think it's great that people are even thinking about [these programs]."

–Rachel Z. Azoff