SFSU opens new campus at Westfield Centre 

San Francisco State University starts courses at its new downtown campus at the Westfield San Francisco Centre on Wednesday, a relocation the school hopes will promote growth in the number of students at its College of Extended Learning and masters in business administration programs.

The university has leased some 107,000 square feet on the fifth and sixthfloor of 835 Market St., according to leasing firm Cushman & Wakefield Senior Director Peter Victor, with a 15-year lease with the right to extend occupancy.

The move puts it squarely between a bazaar of commerce — the upscale shopping center next door, and corporate giant Microsoft, which will be leasing the entire seventh floor of the building.

"It’s just a terrific sort of mix in my view and does wonders for that whole sector of downtown," Victor said.

The new location will initially host about 7,000 College of Extended Learning students, the school’s sign-up-and-pay option without stringent admission requirements. They are moving out of 425 Market St. The Westfield location will also house graduate students vetted through SFSU’s regular admissions process, including 50 "executive" masters of business administration students and nearly 500 regular MBA students. Except for the executive-MBA program, the schools do hope to grow, with the extended learning college aiming for 8,000 to 10,000 students.

In addition to being more visible, the move may make the school more competitive. SFSU competes with several other schools in the area for both graduate and extended-learning students, who have several options for both MBAs and for specialized certificate training.

"The price range where we offer our courses is quite competitive with the privates. We have a good reputation of value for the dollar, and we’re well embedded with the work force because we use industry professionals for our faculty members," Dean of the College of Extended Learning Gail Whitaker said. "I think we have a niche in that we’re ... a not-for-profit, so we only charge what we need to maintain ourselves. And we’re practical — students know that we are preparing them for the work force."

Academy of Art Institute President Elisa Stephens, whose school offers some similar courses and is nearby, said she does not consider SFSU a competitor.

"We welcome them to the neighborhood. … We are both here to do the same thing and that’s to educate the next generation," she said.

The College of Extended Learning will take up 60,000 square feet of the office space. That school provides students with a range of non-degree certificate programs and professional-development classes, from integrated marketing and a new biotechnology clinical trials design and management certificate program to longstanding academic credit programs in paralegal studies, hospitality management and public accountancy.

"It allows students to move up the ladder in their current careers," Whitaker said. "Secondly, we offer programs that actually help people change careers."

The new site will also house both the SFSU College of Business’ masters in business administration program and its "executive MBA" program." The one is a regular master’s program, in which students select their courses and pay the roughly $6,000 annual tuition set by the state. The "executive MBA" program is run in conjunction with the College of Extended Learning, a nonprofit organization, which allows it to charge higher fees. The executive program takes a cohort of students — education-speak for a group that takes all the same classes — through a guided, 23-month program for a set fee of $32,600, including books, College of Business Dean Nancy Hayes said.

The new site will be more convenient for working professionals than SFSU’s campus out near Lake Merced, where the regular MBA students previously took classes, Hayes said. The new site also allows the courses to be more accessible to business-leader guest speakers and faculty, she said. Executive MBA students, like the extended learning students, previously took their classes at 425 Market St.

The new building is "really nice. It’s a big step up," said John Dopp, the director of business graduate programs who is also a professor.

MBA costs and competition*

A number of other schools in The City also offer MBA programs:

» University of San Francisco

Professional MBA for executives — $17,000 one semester of regular MBA

(15 units) — approximately $15,000

» Golden Gate University

Executive MBA — $45,000 full-time, one semester (four classes) — $7,800

» St. Mary’s College of California

Four courses (school works in quarters, not semesters) — $8,160

» San Francisco State University Graduate School

One semester — approximately $3,000; Executive MBA — $32,600

*Estimates reached through prices published on school Web sites combined with calls to school departments and admissions offices.

E=mail Kate Williamson at kwilliamson@examiner.com.

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