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Why Jefferson, Philadelphia University claim they will be different from others

The merger of Thomas Jefferson University with Philadelphia University will create an academic empire spread over more than 100 acres in Center City and in East Falls.

The merger of Thomas Jefferson University with Philadelphia University will create an academic empire spread over more than 100 acres in Center City and in East Falls.

Jefferson sits on 13 acres in the heart of the city; Philadelphia University's rambling ground occupies 105 acres in a leafy patch in the city limits.

But the union of the two campuses is about more than real estate, said the two CEOs who brokered the deal.

"It's not an infrastructure play, it's an opportunity play," said Philadelphia University president Stephen Spinelli Jr. "The synergies are huge."

The melding of the two institutions, announced last week and expected to close by the end of June, will propel the combined operation into the first tier of city universities, said Stephen K. Klasko, chief executive at Jefferson.

The total student body will grow to 8,000.

"We weren't in the same league as the Temples, Drexels and Penns because of our size," said Klasko. "Now, we're the fifth largest university in Philadelphia," just behind St. Joseph's and ahead of La Salle.

"But we're going to be different," Klasko added, in part by breaking down the barriers of the normal four year undergraduate-two year master's, and creating four- and five-year programs that integrate graduate and undergraduate offerings.

"It will be very clear why you'd want to go to this university as opposed to any other."

Since Klasko became chief executive of the Center City institution in September 2013, Jefferson has split with longtime partner Main Line Health and announced mergers with Abington Health in Montgomery County and Aria Health in Northeast Philadelphia.

Following the merger, Klasko said the plan is to continue to grow and "invest significantly" in Center City and East Falls, "and perhaps other places."

"We'll also look at our partners in Abington and Aria [and ask if there] should be other things we could do out there."

The Center City and East Falls campuses will operate as equals existing as "hub-and-hub" as opposed to a "hub-and-spoke" model, Klasko said. Students eventually will enjoy improved dining and exercise facilities and shuttle between the two sites as they decide where to spend their time.

Though the two schools have a combined historical legacy of 324 years - Jefferson dates to 1824 and Philadelphia University was founded in 1884 - Klasko said he and Spinelli prefer to think like a nimble start-up. The new offerings will be funded by internal sources, donations and industry partnerships.

An institute for emerging health professions is in the works, Klasko said.

"We need to ask ourselves, 'what are the professions we need in 10 years that don't exist today,'" Klasko said.

A specialization in health cyber security may be one of them, given health care's growing reliance on computer records and storing them off-site in the cloud.

"That will be a huge industry with the Affordable Care Act," he predicted.

The Jefferson deals comes as Philadelphia University is drafting a 30-year master plan for its campus, and a proposed zoning change to one designed for universities, medical centers, and other institutions has made some neighbors nervous.

A plan update released last month scaled back past ideas. The new 30-year plan, focused on shorter-term needs, reduced new construction by 55 percent, to 385,600 square feet from 850,000 square feet.

The disciplines of the future have a toehold on both campuses.

Spinelli pointed to a recent hack-athon at Philadelphia University focusing on "wearables," clothing with electronic sensors woven into the fabric.

"What you're wearing will assess what you're doing," he said.

215-854-2796 @samwoodiii

Staff writer Harold Brubaker contributed to this article.