Your Network Is About to Expand

Posted in Features, Winter/Spring 2014

Since 1996, nearly 9,000 graduates have earned a Drexel degree through the Drexel Network, a collection of off-campus learning sites that offer degree programs to those who can’t or choose not to study in Philadelphia. These graduates are members of your wider alumni network — and over the past year, the University has begun rapidly forming partnerships that will increase their numbers.

In 2011, Dean O’Brien traveled from his native Sacramento to University City, a neighborhood in a town he had only ever visited briefly once before.

It was his graduation day and Drexel flags were soaring. His chest puffed as he moved through a sea of Dragons decked out in blue and gold. O’Brien was proud. And amused. Proud to be part of the Drexel family. Amused because, not so long ago, a lot of people back home in California thought this place was a furniture company.

Drexel has been offering degrees through its Sacramento campus for five years, but O’Brien says it took a while for locals to learn about the school’s proud history. Now more people on the West Coast know of Drexel’s rank and reputation, and he’s happy he was in on the secret.

“I feel like I kind of scored a huge deal being a part of it early on,” says O’Brien.

O’Brien is one of thousands of Drexel alumni who have never set foot on Drexel’s University City Campus except perhaps on their graduation day — collectively, they are members of what Drexel is now referring to as the Drexel Network.

The Network includes graduates of Drexel Sacramento, Drexel at Burlington Community College and Drexel University Online, the University’s virtual e-learning classroom, as well as various smaller learning sites in Harrisburg, Malvern and Pottstown.

Over the past year, Drexel has developed three new Network partnerships with area community colleges, and additional locations are planned that will grow the Network up and down the East Coast.

So, What Is It?

See an interactive map of locations.

The Network trend began with a conversation in the early 2000s, when the then-president of Burlington County College in New Jersey invited then-Drexel President Constantine Papadakis to bring Drexel courses to BCC’s campus.

By 2006, students in the community college were earning Drexel degrees without ever leaving BCC’s Mount Laurel campus.

It works like this: BCC students are able to matriculate after two years into the Drexel program and receive a Drexel-caliber education taught by Drexel faculty using Drexel curricula. Network students are offered all of the same co-op opportunities and are welcome at on-campus events and to join student clubs and organizations. And, their Drexel tuition is discounted.

Students who start at the community college always have the option to transfer to the University City Campus.

“But for those who don’t want to leave the community college campus, this is a great option for them, because the city life is not for everybody,” says Julie Walters, the associate vice provost of external academic programs who was hired last June to lead the Drexel Network initiative.

Joan McDonald, Drexel’s former senior vice president for enrollment management who was part of the Network’s evolution, describes the model this way: “Drexel will come to you, it will cost less, we will give you the degree that you seek and a good solid university education.”

What’s the Network Benefit?

The model established at Burlington County College will be replicated in all future partnerships with community colleges, Walters says. Why? Because it works.

There are no building costs, so Drexel is able to expand its enrollment with no additional overhead. “We are in a space crunch on the University City Campus, so these Network sites mean we can bring in more students and we can open up that access to the Drexel education and degree without taxing the campus,” says Walters.

The model improves access, a Drexel mission since its founding. People who wouldn’t otherwise be able to manage a Drexel education — due to geography, cost or life commitments — can now join the Drexel fold.

For traditional alumni, the Network model means a better-known brand outside of the Philadelphia region, a fiscally stronger University through greater enrollment, and a more varied cohort of peers. Many of the students enrolling in Network classes are nontraditional: They are typically older, with greater work connections, and different experiences such as families or military experience — all rich with possibilities for new connections.

“We have students who are now becoming part of our alumni who wouldn’t otherwise be part of it, and they bring with them information, education and opportunities that we were missing out on before,” says Walters.

O’Brien, for example, chose Drexel Sacramento because it was an alternative to the University of California, where he had earned his undergraduate degree — and he didn’t want to leave California.

“After I did my research, I found Drexel ranked really high in terms of its reputation and its MBA — almost at an Ivy League level. I was sold and really excited about tapping into an entirely new network,” he recalls.

O’Brien now works as an account manager for Cal Mortgage Loan Insurance Program in Sacramento, where he’s fast building expertise in municipal bond financing.

He’s also president of the Sacramento Area Drexel University Alumni Association, in charge of keeping the Dragon pride alive on the West Coast and working to extend the Drexel brand.

Among the students who have chosen to study at a Network site, McDonald says she has noticed a trend.

“Most Network students are interested in what I call the ‘no-frills’ model: They want to come to class, get the content, they want to go to co-op and they want to graduate,” McDonald says. “And they’re willing to take a no-frills education to get a degree that’s very highly valued in the marketplace.”

“When you think about why a student is choosing a community college, it’s probably the same suite of reasons why they are not able to choose Drexel,” says Walters. “Students either don’t have the access to travel to campus, or they’re working or they have a family. When we partner with a community college and we can reduce tuition, we open up that degree to a student who couldn’t otherwise afford or travel to Drexel.”

Students will still have a community, she adds. Walters envisions a quarterly event just for Network students and more student activities at the sites to foster a robust student life. “We want to make sure that the opportunities available to our main campus students are also available to our Network students,” she says.

At graduation, students from all Network sites walk in the ceremony at the University City Campus with their fellow graduates.

What’s Next?

Over the past year, Drexel has stepped up the search for new Network partners to expand the model.

Students will still have a community, she adds. Walters envisions a quarterly event just for Network students and more student activities at the sites to foster a robust student life. “We want to make sure that the opportunities available to our main campus students are also available to our Network students,” she says.

At graduation, students from all Network sites walk in the ceremony at the University City Campus with their fellow graduates.

Community College are lined up to launch in fall 2014. And, discussions with Northampton County College are underway for a fall 2015 launch. The near-future goal is to add three to five more Network sites and enroll 300 to 500 students — mainly undergraduates — at each site in the next three to five years.

Discussions are also underway to expand further south to locations in Washington, D.C.; Baltimore, Md.; and even Florida.

“There isn’t a defined map that we’re using, but we’re looking for counties with vibrant community colleges,” Walters says. “When I am looking at schools to partner with, I’m looking for something that aligns with Drexel, so that it’s a good fit. I look at these community colleges and what matters to them.”

“Let’s say we do this well and five years from now we have five sites where there are 500 students each,” says McDonald. “That’s 2,500 students who are able to access a Drexel University education who would not otherwise be able to. That is the size of many small colleges in America.”

Why I Chose Drexel Online: Flexibility — Joe Habich

Joe Habich

BS business administration ’13


In 2002, Joe Habich was a high school senior considering engineering, or maybe even computer science, as a career after college. And, he decided he wanted Drexel.

Only, Drexel didn’t want him.

“At the time, I was not smart enough to get in, and Drexel let me know that” by way of a rejection letter, Habich said.

But he persisted. Years later, in 2010, with a ”soft spot” for Drexel in his heart, he says, he applied again, now with three years of community college under his belt.

“I never thought that I wasn’t a student at Drexel just because I didn’t physically go there. It’s what you make of it.”

Habich spent three years earning his business degree part-time, “with sprinkles of full-time” here and there. His Drexel experience was punctuated by the birth of his two children — the first when he started in 2010, and the second just after his graduation in the spring. During his last year, Habich signed on for a full-time course load to finish his degree before his second baby arrived. Because of the flexibility of the online program, Habich says he was able to work full-time while carrying a full class load. But not without some late nights.

“Yeah, that was an interesting 11 weeks,” he says. “I didn’t sleep much.”

His employer at the time agreed to pay for Habich’s degree, but only in business administration, a significant detour from the information technology path he had been travelling. But, says Habich, “a business degree is good to have.”

“A lot of IT people forget that they work for a business and they don’t understand the business part of things and wonder why their budgets can’t keep ballooning each year without some kind of business justification,” says Habich, who works as a network administrator at ePharmaSolutions, a clinical service provider for large pharmaceutical companies in Conshohocken. “From a business standpoint, we have to understand where our weaknesses are in our IT infrastructure if we are going to continue making gains in our market.”

Earning a degree online takes a special kind of student, Habich adds. “Online learning really takes a motivated student,” he says, “because no one is standing over your shoulder making sure you are doing what you’re supposed to do. Try taking calculus online.”

Although Habich earned his degree exclusively online, he attests, “I never thought that I wasn’t a student at Drexel just because I didn’t physically go there. It’s what you make of it.”

Why I Chose Drexel at BCC: No Frills — Dean Graboyes

Dean Graboyes

BS computing and security technology ’13


The first couple of years after high school are a total blur to Dean Graboyes.

“I didn’t know what the hell was going on,” he says about 2006 to 2009.

It was in that period that he studied meteorology at Texas A&M University, then decided that was more of a hobby than a career. He quit and moved back home to New Jersey and spent over a year taking part-time classes here and there at Gloucester County Community College and Camden County Community College, getting general prerequisite courses “out of the way,” while working full-time.

“I was all over the place,” he says. “It was never a constant stream of school because there weren’t any programs available that interested me. And then I found Drexel.”

“When I joined Drexel, I wanted to power through and just get the degree. I had wasted enough time and wasn’t trying to get the college experience anymore, I was just trying to get the education and get moving.”

In 2009, Graboyes, who had always been into computers, discovered Drexel’s Computer and Security Technology program and enrolled as an online student. It was the computer security component that was missing from programs at other colleges, he says.

“Security is an ever-growing realm in the computer world and I knew there would always be new technologies that I could learn, as well as infinite job opportunities,” he says.

Finally Graboyes was on the right track. But he still wasn’t satisfied.

“It felt like it was taking forever,” Graboyes said of his year as a part-time online student. So, he quit his job, moved home and enrolled full time at Drexel at BCC.

“When I joined Drexel, I wanted to power through and just get the degree,” Graboyes said, who was already behind and three years older than other first-year students. “I had wasted enough time and wasn’t trying to get the college experience anymore, I was just trying to get the education and get moving. I was very happy that Drexel had something so close to home and had a program that was so specific and available to me at the time.”

Just before his last year attending Drexel at BCC, Graboyes worked as an intern for American Water in Voorhees, N.J. They kept him on part-time during his last year at Drexel and offered him a full-time position after graduation. He currently works as a network security analyst for the company.

Why I chose Drexel at BCC: Convenience — Patrick Quinn

Patrick Quinn

BS engineering technology ’11


About five years ago, Patrick Quinn was making caulking guns. He worked on the assembly line for an engineering company in South Jersey, and he liked the work. He was comfortable there after working a string of odd jobs following a six-year stint as a sergeant for the Marines. He wasn’t a good student in high school but now, years later, he had motivation. He aspired to be a teacher. So, he had enrolled as an English major at Burlington County College, a convenient two-mile drive from his job.

“I grew up in the area, and I knew that BCC had a good reputation; it had all the check marks: price range, convenience, etc.,” Quinn says.

But Quinn’s boss, Mark Schneider (also a Drexel alum, BS mechanical engineering ’83), thought Quinn’s skills were better suited for a career in engineering.

“My employer at the time was a Drexel alum, and said, ‘Hey, you’re at BCC, did you know you can take Drexel classes there?’” Quinn says.

Quinn had heard about it and liked the undergraduate degree in engineering technology. And he made the switch. For the next two years, Quinn continued to work full time at the engineering company and take classes full time at Drexel at BCC. He was able to manage it since the campus was just minutes away.

“The No. 1 reason this worked was the convenience,” Quinn says. “I lived in South Jersey at the time and my work was close to campus, so I could take classes at night, I could go to work in the morning, take a class, and then go back to work. There was a lot of flexibility.”

What’s more, Quinn says, his Drexel professors also played a part in a positive experience. “The professors understand you are working and doing other things,” Quinn says. “They get it. They know you are working on an executive-type degree, and you don’t have a ton of time like the other students living on [the University City Campus].”

While pursuing his degree at Drexel at BCC, Quinn completed a co-op with General Electric, an opportunity that opened the door for this current position as assembly engineer for GE Aviation, a subsidiary of General Electric located in Ohio.

It’s because of the Drexel degree that he’s where he is today, Quinn explains. And it’s thanks to the Network that he got the degree.

“I don’t think it would have happened if I had to go to the main campus every day,” he says. “Something would have had to give — I would have had to go part-time and it would have taken me longer to graduate, or I would have had to cut back hours at work, which would have caused all kinds of other problems. At the end of the day it worked out perfectly for me. I wouldn’t have done it any other way.”

Future Locations

  • Drexel at Montgomery County Community College (Coming Fall 2014)
  • Drexel at Delaware Community College (Coming Fall 2014)
  • Drexel at Northampton Community College (Coming Fall 2015)

Drexel Sacramento

  • Enrollment: 276
  • Graduates (Since 2009): 355
  • Average Age: 34
  • Graduate: 96%
  • Undergraduate: 4%
  • Male: 56%
  • Female: 44%
  • On Financial Aid: 60%
  • Military Veterans: 6%
  • Top Subjects: Education (39% Of Enrollment)

Drexel at Burlington County College

  • Enrollment: 282
  • Graduates (Since 2006): 353
  • Average Age: 27
  • Graduate: 0%
  • Undergraduate: 100%
  • Male: 81% Female: 19%
  • On Financial Aid: 74%
Military Veterans: 7%
Top Subject: Engineering (45% Of Enrollment)