By Princess Safiya Byers Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service Published Jul 31, 2023 at 4:01 PM

After a career in lending, Jason Waters joined the ACRE program to expand his real estate knowledge. He says it was one of the best choices he’s made.

“It was inspirational to see people I knew and went to school with doing great things,” he said. “I learned so much more about the field and how I could do more than just fix and flips.”

The Associates in Commercial Real Estate, or ACRE, program provides professional training with the goal of expanding and supporting minority representation in the commercial real estate industry.

The program, founded in 2005 at Marquette University by Mark Eppli, has more than 281 alums, with a current class of 24, according to Christopher Kemp, the deputy director of Local Initiative Support Corporation Milwaukee, which administers the initiative.

“It’s going to take us over (the) 300 mark, which is great,” Kemp said.

ACRE is led by education partners from the Milwaukee School of Engineering, Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Architecture and Urban Planning.

"Education is access"

The 24-week program includes graduate level classes in a university setting. Students meet weekly during three-hour class periods and complete several assignments, three major exams and a final course project that includes creating a development proposal for an actual site in the region that’s delivered in a public setting and judged by seasoned real estate professionals.

“What we know is that education is access,” said Andy Hunt, the Vieth director of Marquette University’s Center for Real Estate. “Doors open to everyone when they have a certain level of education.”

Ranjit Singh is a current ACRE student who already works in real estate by doing fix-and-flips on residential properties and managing commercial properties.

“I applied to ACRE because the reputation speaks for itself,” she said. “It felt like a great place to be and has held to that so far.”

She said the network is the best part of the program.

“I feel like my classmates have turned into family,” Singh said. “It’s so helpful to be able to learn from our professors and one another.”

"Access to equity"

Both Hunt and Kemp said capital and access to equity are issues the program strives to combat.

“Not many of our participants come from environments where they have access to wealth,” Hunt said. “So, they aren’t able to do the same types of projects or get the same type of work as their peers.”

“Capital is the challenge,” Kemp added. “Not many people have millions in assets to get a project going.”

The program helps participants overcome these challenges.

“A lot of us are motivated to go into the field and show what we can do,” Waters said. “We have a perspective that (others) don’t have because we’re from these communities that we’re trying to develop.”

For more information

For more information on the ACRE program, you can look on the group’s website.