Presidio Graduate School – a small, private business school focused on social justice and environmental sustainability – announced this month that it will merge with the University of Redlands in southern California. Presidio’s programs will be housed at the Redland’s Marin Campus in the San Francisco Bay area beginning in summer 2023.
Redlands’ School of Business and Society will establish the Presidio Center for Sustainable Solutions and assume responsibility for Presidio’s academic programs. Presidio programs will continue to be taught by Presidio faculty, while allowing Redlands to expand its environmental focused curriculum.
“Presidio. is a really unique and forward looking school that has been at the forefront of challenging business education to do things differently. Because of the way higher ed is structured, it was just not possible for us to be a tiny graduate school on our own,” Presidio Graduate School President Liz Maw tells Poets&Quants.
“The fact that we were able to find a home to help us realize our vision is really outstanding. It’s been so much work, and for them to invest all this time and money and care to ensure it will thrive in the future is just inspiring.”
‘THE BUSINESS SCHOOL FOR MBAs WHO WANT TO CHANGE THE WORLD’
San Francisco-based Presidio, which the New York Times once hailed as the business school for MBAs who want to change the world, launched a portfolio of graduate programs in 2002 with a straightforward vision: Integrating principles of sustainability and social impact into every course. These include Presidio’s nationally leading sustainability-focused MBA, dual MBA-MPA, MPA and certificate programs that aim to educate purpose-led leaders “skilled in both matters of the head and matters of the heart.”
It enrolls about 130 students per year, including about 77 students in its MBA. (For comparison, Redlands’ School of Business and Society has about 300 MBA students per year and about 600 students across all programs. Altogether, the University of Redlands enrolls about 3,500 students per year.)
Presidio’s program was hybrid from the start, with about half of the program delivered online and half delivered in three- to four-day residencies once per month. Because Presidio doesn’t have a campus, the residency rotations floated around San Francisco locations.
Presidio put out a call for proposals earlier this year, looking for a larger partner that could stabilize its shaky financial footing and ensure its continued viability. It chose Redlands for its commitment to business ethics and complimentary mission. Late last year, the Redlands School of Business school officially changed its name to School of Business & Society to better reflect its values.
“This (call-for-proposal) came at almost a perfect time for us in the School of Business and Society,” dean Tom Horan tells Poets&Quants. “We went through the process of changing our name both because we believe it’s a strength of who we are, but also as a challenge for us to walk the talk. We’re very strong in business ethics and purposeful leadership. We had some environmental programming, but it wasn’t our strong suit. When this opportunity came along, I knew I had to write up a proposal right then.”
A NEW HOME ON MARIN CAMPUS
Redlands’ 20-acre Marin campus sits atop a tree-covered hill at San Anselmo, 15 miles northwest of downtown San Francisco. It is home of the San Francisco Theological Seminary which Redlands joined in a 2019 partnership as well as Redland’s Graduate School of Theology. The campus has residency halls for when Presidio students come to campus once a month, and Redlands is building out more classroom space with updated technology. (Redlands’ 160-acre main campus is in southern California.)
“The Marin campus is a gem; you really have to see it to appreciate it. I would say it’s the veil between earth and heaven,” says University of Redlands President Krista L. Newkirk. “It’s truly beautiful and a place to take a step back and to be contemplative.
“There’s a strong mission with the chaplaincy program, and the ethical piece of this – the social responsibility, the environmental responsibility – marries nicely with Presidio’s mission,” Newkirk says. “When other attempted higher education mergers have been unsuccessful, it’s typically because of the lack of true mission alignment. I think here, there really was strong mission alignment from the beginning and that’s really what drove this as a positive opportunity going forward.”
HISTORY OF PRESIDIO GRADUATE SCHOOL
Presidio’s roots date back to 1973 when Dr. Richard Gray founded World College West in San Anselmo, California. The college shifted to focus on graduate education as part of Alliant University from 2002 to 2014, and Presidio became an independent 501(c)(3). In subsequent years, it entered a string of partnerships with larger institutions including Pinchot University in Seattle and Amity University based in New Delhi. Presidio has nearly 2,000 alumni working in environmental sustainability and social justice roles across a variety of sectors.
While many business schools now offer electives on sustainability or social justice as add-ons to their cores – and often issue press releases when they do so – Presidio claims to be the first graduate school to integrate sustainability into every business school course.
“We talk about sustainability from day one in accounting, in marketing, in operations, in finance. That’s a completely different experience,” Maw says. “In fact, a number of our students tell us they didn’t apply to any other business program. They didn’t want a regular MBA. They wanted a degree that would enable them to change the world, and that’s what Presidio offers them.
“I also think you will meet no other MBA students like our students. They are so passionate, so committed to re-crafting the future to be more sustainable and it’s really humbling and inspiring to be around them.”
BENEFITS FOR REDLANDS, PRESIDIO
As a small institution, Presidio has struggled to offer its students the full suite of services and academic resources to which it aspires. Those include a host of career services, expanded alumni network, and more community events and gatherings. This partnership will expand services and opportunities for Presidio students while giving them a permanent home at the Marin campus.
Presidio faculty and curriculum will move over to the Presidio Center for Sustainable Solutions housed within Redlands’ School of Business and Society. A handful of Presidio’s already small number of existing staff and administration will be made redundant, Maw says, and those details are still being worked out.
“The good news for our team is there’s a lot of notice and we’re doing a lot to help each and every one of them move on to their next dream job,” Maw says.
For Redlands, the move allows them to expand their footprint in the Marin area while adding new programs in sustainability and the environment. It will also help the business school create new pathways to better serve students from undergraduate to graduate to lifelong learning. The business school already offers the 4 + 1 pathway which offers students’ the ability to earn an MBA while pursuing a College of Arts and Science undergraduate degree, Horan says.
“I think the partnership provides great opportunities for our students as they look to move into graduate programs right after they complete their undergraduate degree,” Newkirk says. “Then, I think, it’s really just the excitement as we start to dream together, looking for interdisciplinary opportunities or new programs that we can build together.”
The merger will take place at the end of June, subject to approval by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission. In the meantime, the schools will hold collaborative sessions with faculty, staff, students, alumni and supporters to support the transition.
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