A real estate bubble is enveloping many parts of the United States—and colleges are cashing in before it pops. Gwynedd Mercy University in Pennsylvania recently sold a 154-acre property for more than twice what it paid for the land three years ago. Last week, Southwestern University in Texas sold for tens of millions two properties that it has held since the 1930s.

Gwynedd Mercy first bought the plot, located about 22 miles north of Philadelphia, from Merck & Co. pharmaceutical company in 2018 for $12.1 million. The property—which includes a 157,000-square-foot building—doubled the campus footprint, and at the time university officials planned to turn the existing building into an “innovative teaching and learning facility,” said Deanne H. D’Emilio, president of Gwynedd Mercy.

But after completing a facilities planning process and watching the real estate market boom in Gwynedd Valley, university officials changed…

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