Drexel University today announced plans to open a graduate-studies program in Sacramento, the first of up to five new locations that the West Philadelphia school plans to start in growing cities around the country over the next five to six years, its president said.

The new program, which will open in January with about 100 students, was approved by the university's Board of Trustees yesterday and is separate from the university's plans to open a four-year undergraduate campus in Sacramento.

The effort to create a Drexel network of graduate-education campuses comes as the university tries to find ways to expand its reach for students and tap into markets with growing populations. Other cities that will be targeted if Sacramento is successful are Phoenix, Miami, Los Angeles, and Dallas or Houston.

A plan for the undergraduate campus on donated land in Placer County will proceed, but is expected to take five to seven years because of a lengthy approval process, said Drexel President Constantine Papadakis. Even if Placer County officials give swift approval, there are likely to be legal challenges from environmental groups, he said.

Drexel's Board of Trustees, he said, had been discussing the concept of a Drexel network for at least a year before the prospect of the Placer County land emerged, he said.

"We wanted to establish a new model to deliver higher education," Papadakis said. "The new model will be a hybrid between physical presence and online learning."

The graduate program campus will be run out of a 20,000-square-foot space in downtown Sacramento and will offer five areas of study at first: business administration, engineering management, higher education, information systems, and library and information science. Programs in human resources development, the science of instruction, contemporary nursing, and nursing leadership will be added in September 2009.

The programs were selected based on Drexel's areas of strength and market studies of the needs in the region, Papadakis said. Drexel also studied similar ventures by other schools, including a San Francisco campus by the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School

The new site, which is 17 miles from the proposed Placer County plot, will allow the university to build up its name in Sacramento in preparation for an undergraduate campus, the president said.

Contact staff writer Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or ssnyder@phillynews.com