$30 Million Gift Establishes Cornell Real Estate Department

Cornell University's Sage Hall

The SC Johnson College of Business at Cornell University will have a new real estate department, funded by a $30 million donation from alumnus Paul Rubacha. Cornell photo

Cornell University is a well-known real estate school, less for the number of MBAs who go into the industry and more for its programs for other degree seekers. U.S. News ranked the SC Johnson College of Business 5th this year for real estate offerings, up from 6th in 2021 and 7th in 2020. Cornell’s two-year Baker Program in Real Estate, offered jointly by the Johnson College and the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning, is among the top East Coast master’s degree programs in the discipline.

Now, thanks to a $30 million gift from a prosperous alumnus, Cornell is investing in making its name synonymous with real estate. Paul Rubacha, a 1973 Cornell MBA, is financing a department of real estate in his name — grateful recognition, he says, for his successes both “professionally and personally.”

“This is an opportunity for me to say thanks to the university for much of what it’s done for me,” says Rubacha, co-founder of Ashley Capital, one of the largest privately held industrial real estate investment companies in the United States. “And I hope that by doing this, it will further strengthen the real estate education program at the university, and provide similar opportunities for scores of other students going forward.”

BAKER PROGRAM TO CENTER NEW REAL ESTATE DEPARTMENT 

Paul Rubacha, Cornell MBA Class of 1973

The gift includes $25 million to establish the Paul Rubacha Department of Real Estate and $5 million to incentivize others to contribute through a matching fund challenge. Administered between the Johnson College and Cornell’s architecture, art, and planning school, the department will be “an innovative, multi-college department of real estate, uniting partners across academia and industry, and building on Cornell’s strengths in engaged learning and impact-focused scholarship to increase opportunities for students and advance the field,” a news release stated. The new department will “expand and enhance a program that integrates finance, development, and the built environment in an unprecedented way.” It was approved May 26 by the Cornell Board of Trustees.

“I’m deeply grateful to Paul for his support, which is allowing us to strengthen Cornell’s academic distinction in so many exciting ways,” Cornell President Martha E. Pollack said in a news release. “The Paul Rubacha Department of Real Estate will open tremendous new possibilities for our faculty and students: enabling new collaborations across disciplines, with industry practitioners, and between programs in Ithaca and New York City.”

The Baker Program will serve as the new department’s flagship master’s degree-granting program. More academic offerings, such as a research-focused master’s/Ph.D. program, and more collaborations with Cornell colleges in Ithaca and New York City will be launched over the next few years.

“I’ve been fortunate that Cornell gave me some wonderful opportunities while I was a student,” said Rubacha, who earned his MBA one year after earning a bachelor’s degree from Cornell. “And even following graduation, those wonderful opportunities to participate in university activities and benefit from what the university has to offer have continued.”

CORE DEPARTMENT FACULTY TO BE HIRED

Cornell graduated only three MBAs who reported real estate salaries in 2021, according to the most current U.S. News data, about half the number it had in 2018. However, the Baker Program graduated 31 in 2021 (the most recent year for which data is published), 96% of whom received a full-time job offer. The average base salary for 2021 Baker grads was $90,769.

Anticipating a jump in MBAs interested in attending Cornell to study real estate, the school has promised an increase in faculty hiring. In addition to the 22 faculty currently contributing a portion of their teaching time toward the Baker Program, along with professors of practice and other non-tenure track faculty across Ithaca and New York City, Cornell “will add dedicated core department faculty,” according to a story in the Cornell Chronicle. “The new department will boost recruitment of faculty around signature themes and emerging priorities, leading to cross-disciplinary ideas, research and networks and more adaptive programs that respond to emerging industry needs and student interests, administrators said.”

“The new department will ensure that Cornell provides the richest-possible applied instruction and opportunities to students across campus,” Andrew Karolyi, Johnson College dean, said. “It will offer expanded industry and alumni engagement, incentivize innovative collaborations and advance the larger field and the future of real estate programs and pursuits at Cornell.”

The new department will offer “a thoughtful real-estate education unlike any other program in the country  one that’s as focused on design and development as it is on the balance sheet,” Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff said. “Combining faculty and staff expertise from the SC Johnson College of Business and the College of Architecture, Art and Planning will elevate Cornell’s existing array of real estate education, research and outreach.”

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