For all the classes that are taught by some of the top professionals in the industry, and all the degrees that have been conferred, Morris Davis likes to offer a different metric when measuring the impact and success of the Center for Real Estate at Rutgers University.
Before the founding of the center in 2015, Rutgers had not awarded a single scholarship dollar to those studying real estate in any fashion. Since then, the center has distributed nearly $1.3 million to 220 students — with nearly all of the funds coming from private donors.
Davis, the Paul V. Profeta Chair of Real Estate and the academic director of the Center for Real Estate at the Rutgers Business School, often talks of making the center the best real estate school in the country. He said that can only happen if the school makes its students the top priority.
“We really want to invest everything that we can in the students, so that they have the best possible career trajectory,” he said. “And a lot of that has to do with finances. We want to give them every opportunity possible. What we don’t want them to do is to make a terrible career decision because they’re worried about debt.”
The center clearly has been a hit. Davis said approximately 500 students take at least one class every year in New Brunswick and Newark. This year, 144 undergrads have declared a real estate minor. This fall, 65 were given a combined $210,000 in scholarships, ranging from $2,000 to $5,000 — following an application process that includes responses reviewed by a scholarship committee. The center expects a similar total in the spring.
And, while the funding comes from a variety of private donations, the top honorees are given “named” scholarships in recognition of those who have contributed most, including $5,000 awards sponsored by the Hampshire Cos., the Wilf/Tanzman families, Glenn & Mary Rufrano/ICSC, and the Hasan Family.
Davis is proud to say that a large number of the awards go to students from disadvantaged backgrounds, as making the industry more diverse and inclusive has been a goal since the start. And, while the scholarships do a lot to assist in this mission, the scholarships are awarded in a need-blind process.
“We don’t ask anything about a student’s financial situation at all — everything is anonymous,” he said. “The scholarships are merit-based, but we’re such a diverse campus, diversity just emerges naturally.”
That being said, Davis said the center also has helped eight students receive prestigious WX (Women Executive in Real Estate) scholarships, valued at $10,000 each.
Investing financially is just one way the center is helping its students, Morris said.
This year, the center received $350,000 from the state to use as it saw fit. The center used part of the funding to bring in Jodi Shaw of J Shaw Enterprises to do career counseling and guidance for students, as well as to solicit jobs and internships from the industry for students.
“This is another type of investment,” he said. “Bringing in Jodi is like bringing in an industry expert — someone who can help our students in all aspects of the job search and interview process.”
Shaw said her role is all-encompassing. It starts with making sure real estate students understand all of the different potential career paths in the industry — and making sure they are pursuing the right ones.
And that they know there is more to the industry than what they see on HGTV.
“Understanding that broader and bigger picture will help us match them up better skillset-wise,” she said. “We ask them, ‘What’s driven you to take these real estate classes? Which classes do you like the best and how have you done in them?’”
More than that, Shaw teaches interview prep and the networking skills that are needed to get that first job — and the second job.
“Little things — like sending ‘thank you’ notes — mean a lot,” she said.
Davis feels all of these little things push the center closer to the ultimate goal.
“We are committed to building the top center for real estate in the world,” he said. “When we launched, I think a lot of people thought that was wishful thinking, but we’re actually executing on a plan. And the plan was to really invest in students.
“If you want to be No. 1, you have to invest in your students continuously: It’s having great teachers in the classroom teaching relevant information, it’s great financial support, it’s great career counseling and it’s having a network of alumni that are there to support you when you’re launching your career.”
The process has come a long way in six years, but Davis feels it’s a long way from being complete.
“We’re not done,” he said. “We need to make many more investments to truly be No. 1. The state dollars have enabled us to go from good to great. Those state dollars have been amazingly important for us because they enabled us to hire Jodi — and they’ve enabled us to offer specialized, industry-specific software training for our students, which is really expensive.
“And, frankly, when our donors see that the state’s all in, and that these other donors are all in, it’s making it easier to raise more money for more scholarships for students. I’m really hopeful that, in three or four years, people are going to say, ‘That’s the top center for real estate in the world.’ And it’s right here at Rutgers.”