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Palm Beach Atlantic University using largest ever donation to build 'transformative' $75 million business school

Business School Atrium.tif
Palm Beach Atlantic University
Rendering of the atrium leading into the Marshall and Vera Lea Rinker Business Building at Palm Beach Atlantic University.

After receiving the largest financial gift in its history, Palm Beach Atlantic University announced an ambitious plan to expand its business school — and take advantage of the recent surge in local hiring demands.

For the project, longtime financial backers John J. and Sheila Rinker and the Marshall and Vera Lea Rinker Foundation have donated a total of $26 million to the private Christian university.

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The university's president, Debra A. Schwinn, said the Rinker Family's donation kicked off a $75 million funding campaign to build a six-story, standalone Marshall and Vera Lea Rinker Business building at its downtown waterfront West Palm Beach campus. She told WLRN the school has already raised more than $43 million in less than a year.

Schwinn said PBAU officials discussed the new development plans several years before the uptick in hiring demands in the city's financial sector. And now the timing is right. She said the school had their biggest incoming class this year, freshman and transfers, a total 844 students, many of whom aspire to work in business.

“We hope to be a major pipeline into some of these great new businesses and our current businesses in West Palm Beach," Schwinn said. "And the fact that we have so many businesses in the last two years that have decided to move their headquarters here just makes that initial decision very positive."

Performing Arts Center.tif
Palm Beach Atlantic University.
Rendering of the Performing Arts Center at Palm Beach Atlantic University.

Of the more 3800 students currently enrolled at the university, about 2500 undergrad and graduate students are located in the West Palm Beach downtown campus.

Schwinn said the university has more than 500 students enrolled in their business school currently and she expects to have around 900 business students enrolled by the time the new school opens in roughly two years.

In a statement, Brian Strow, the dean at the Rinker School of Business, said the 54-year-old the university aims to “produce well-trained, values-driven interns and employees for the companies moving to our area.”

The new, 125,000 sq ft business building will be situated about one block from the current Rinker School of Business on campus, just south of the university's Warren Library on Olive avenue.

Along with undergraduate business classes and MBA programs, the building will feature a professional stock trading room and a 314-seat tiered lecture hall. It will also include the LeMieux Center for Public Policy and the Titus Center for Franchising, an expanded space to hold business lectures about how to start local and national franchises.

The fact that we have so many businesses in the last two years that have decided to move their headquarters here just makes that initial decision very positive
PBAU president Debra A. Schwinn

Schwinn, who described the project as "stunning, transformative," said officials hope to have shovels in the ground for the new business school in the fall of 2023, with a projected completion by 2025.

Her main concern is the lack of workforce housing for graduates. She said if the housing supply remains low, the university may have to invest in workforce housing projects in the near future.

In the meantime, the school's main focus is to educate its students with its Christian business values and to "provide a pipeline of highly ethical business leaders of the future," Schwinn said.

"So if you're doing a class in accounting, for example, you'll be talking about ethics within the accounting world."

John J. Rinker, who has invested in capital projects ranging from athletics to art, said in a statement the university is "generating students who have integrity, moral strength, and the ability to live by such principles."

Schwinn said the university is close to completing a seven-year process to earn an Association to Advance Collegiate Schools Business (AACSB) accreditation, which could put the school in the top five percent of global business schools.

PBAU's long-term master plan, beyond the $75 million dollar business school campaign, she said, is to start a second development phase that would introduce a new health sciences complex that would provide new undergraduate science laboratories, connect with their existing Gregory School of Pharmacy, and how house an expanding nursing school.

The second funding phase will also include a performing arts center and a welcome hub for university students and alumni.

Wilkine Brutus is a reporter and producer for WLRN and a guest faculty member at the Poynter Institute. The South Florida native produces stories on topics surrounding local news, culture, art, politics and current affairs.