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The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) has announced a new exclusive partnership with Columbia College in Columbia, Mo., to offer expanded access to academic programs to association members. The partnership will coincide with a phase-out of the current REALTOR® University program.

With the agreement, Columbia College will become the exclusive higher-education partner for more than 1.3 million NAR members, providing opportunities for them to complete a variety of associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees, including real estate-specific offerings, anticipated in late spring 2020.

“As we were looking to partner with someone to expand the vision and the dream, we talked to a lot of different schools,” said NAR CEO Bob Goldberg in an interview during the REALTORS® Conference & Expo in San Francisco. “We were intrigued by Columbia College because they have an extensive network of traditional students and working adult students taking classes both electronically and on campus.”

While REALTOR® University offers a master’s degree program, and will have conferred 85-plus degrees as of this May, NAR members expressed the desire for options to receive their associate’s or bachelor’s degrees, as well.

“We had to make a critical decision,” said Goldberg. “Is this something NAR should continue to invest in or is this the opportunity to pivot and work with an accredited educational institution? Now we’re able to say to our members, if you’re looking for opportunities in education, we have it—anywhere from associate’s and bachelor’s programs to an MBA with a Real Estate concentration.”

Columbia College plans to develop and offer a Master of Business Administration degree with an emphasis in Real Estate, based on input from members and REALTOR® University faculty. NAR members that enroll in the NAR Academy at Columbia College can receive $100 per eligible course in financial support from the Center for Specialized REALTOR® Education (CSRE). The CSRE is a NAR wholly owned subsidiary that creates and facilitates educational programs in real estate, working to elevate professional standards through designations, certifications and degrees in real estate.

According to Goldberg, the partnership helps NAR realize the larger vision of expanded educational opportunities for members. “We’ve had members tell us, ‘I have this many hours of education; I’d love to apply that to get some sort of degree.’ But if we made the decision to go beyond a master’s program and add a bachelor’s program, then we’d have to get into the other curriculum—like English, economics, history,” he explained. “That’s not our core competency, so by partnering with an esteemed academic institution like Columbia, we can now offer those programs.”

Columbia College will also allow REALTORS® to participate in college certificate programs to develop expertise in specific skillset areas. Additionally, it will work closely with NAR’s affiliates, such as IREM, CCIM and the Residential Real Estate Council, said Goldberg. “Columbia College will sit down with our affiliates and determine if any of the courses within their designation programs may be applicable for college credits,” he explained.

According to Goldberg, expanding educational opportunities through Columbia College helps serves NAR’s larger goal to raise the professionalism of REALTORS®, thereby improving consumer perception as well.

“REALTOR® University came out of a Professionalism PAG (presidential advisory group) that was looking at things we could do to improve the image and the quality of our industry and one of those was REALTOR® University, but it was limited because it was just a master’s degree,” said Goldberg. “Now we can realize the larger dream and do what’s in our core competency, which is partner with people. We are committed to continuing to add value by providing substantial educational opportunities that help our members grow personally and professionally. As a member’s knowledge base grows, it leads to enhancing and broadening their business, which can increase their profitability and efficiency.”

NAR will not continue to operate REALTOR® University, which was conceived and launched in 2012. Every student currently attending REALTOR® University will have an individualized learning plan allowing them to finish the program.

Founded in 1851 in Columbia, Mo., Columbia College is a private, nonprofit liberal arts and sciences institution. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, the college has more than 30 locations nationwide and offers day, evening and online classes to thousands of students each year. The college opened a new 60,000-square-foot facility in September, housing its Robert W. Plaster School of Business.

“We believe this new partnership between NAR and Columbia College will truly be a game changer, not only for our institution but for the association’s members around the country,” said Columbia College President Dr. Scott Dalrymple. “As far as we know, this is the largest exclusive educational partnership in the United States.”

REALTOR® University alumni will become members of the Columbia College Alumni Association, with all its privileges and benefits. These alumni will also become the founding members of an NAR scholar’s society.

“This is what we aspire to do as volunteer leaders: innovate, lead and create,” said Ron Phipps, chairman of the REALTOR® University Board of Regents. “Now we have ensured the groundbreaking work we have done for our members continues to provide true and recognized benefits for years to come.”

Goldberg reports that immediate reactions to the partnership with Columbia College have been positive thus far.

“There’s nothing but upside to it,” he said. “What we’re hearing from members is, ‘Good, NAR is partnering with people who make this their profession,’ and we’ve done that in a lot of areas of our organization. People want their association to be focused on the core lanes that we’re good at.”

For more information about the NAR Academy at Columbia College, please visit nar.ccis.edu. For more information on the member benefit detail, please visit www.nar.realtor/nar-academy.

Maria Patterson is RISMedia’s executive editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at maria@rismedia.com.

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