California officials this week unanimously approved a plan that will allow Drexel University to pursue its interest in building a four-year campus outside of Sacramento.

The venture would permit the Philadelphia school to expand into a growth market at a time when student population is expected to begin a precipitous decline in the Northeast.

Carl Oxholm 3d, executive vice president and chief of staff at Drexel, said the approval "came quickly."

"We were delighted that they are so happy with the prospect of our coming here and that it's unanimous," Oxholm said yesterday in a telephone interview from Sacramento.

Drexel's board of trustees in September agreed to accept an exclusive five-year option to explore building the 6,000-student campus on about 550 acres.

If Drexel's administration decides in favor of the campus, it will take another vote by the board of trustees before the plan can move forward.

"We think that five years is more than adequate time for us to make a decision about that," Oxholm said.

Oxholm had no estimate on when officials would take the plan to the trustees.

But the campus is at least five years away from fruition, officials said. This week's approval by the Placer County Board of Supervisors could face legal challenges from environmental groups.

"Whatever challenges there are would be resolved before we accept the land," Oxholm said.

The land for the new campus was donated by the Angelo and Sofia Tsakopoulos family, William and Claudia Cummings, and the Wayne L. Prim family and their partners. They offered the land in 2001 with the hope that a new university could be built there.

Kyriakos Tsakopoulos, who has led the effort to attract a university on behalf of his family and the other donors, praised the approval.

"The Greater Sacramento area has long exported students to private universities outside of the region," he said. "Now, we are changing that dynamic by laying the groundwork for a major, private university right here in our community."

Drexel next month, in a separate venture, will begin testing the market and making itself known to the region when it opens a graduate-studies program in an office building in Sacramento. About 50 students are enrolled in the program, which will start with four majors: an MBA, a master of information science, a master of library and information systems, and higher education.

In September, five more programs will be added: engineering management, human-resource development, science of instruction, nursing, and nursing leadership.

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