Local restaurateur Miguel Pires, 31, chose a seminar series to jump-start his career in real estate. (Teddy Wolff/For Express)

For busy executives who go back to school, the greatest challenge can sometimes be just getting to class.

It’s something restaurateur Miguel Pires knows well. Pires launched two spots in his hometown of Manassas, Va. — Monza and Zandra’s Taqueria — and has started working as a real-estate agent for Weber Rector.

At 31, he is one of the youngest students in the five-week Real Estate Seminar Series through the Executive Education certification programs at George Mason’s School of Business.

“It’s definitely hard to take eight or nine hours out of your day to do a program,” Pires says. “But the experience and the knowledge I’m gaining is worth it.”

Flexibility is the name of the game, and universities around the region are introducing programs that cater to the limited time executives have to acquire knowledge.

Johns Hopkins University is introducing a master’s in Global Public Policy that will let students complete coursework by gathering every other week for a Friday and Saturday for 16 months. The Brookings Institution offers a Master of Science in Leadership that can be completed in as few as three years, or as many as 11.

The GMU program Pires is in meets just once a week for a full-day crash course on graduate-level topics that typically require a semester to teach. If students miss a meeting, they can make it up the next semester.

“This is a perfect way for me to start my [real-estate] journey, without having to commit to a two-year program,” Pires says.

Pires heard about the program through his boss, Coleman Rector, an instructor and one of its co-founders. It was designed for students who cannot make time for a master’s program, Rector says.

“People would always say, ‘I’d love to take your classes one day,’ and we would say, ‘That’s going to cost you $40,000 and you have to take the GRE and commit one-and-a-half years,’ ” Rector says. “We wanted to set up a platform to give master’s level education to the masses.”

The series costs $2,975 (a fee employers may cover), and they gain the business know-how to work in real estate or start their own venture.

Students in the Brookings program apply what they learn immediately — it’s a course requirement. At the end of each of the 22 courses, students submit a paper explaining how they used what they learned at work. Most work in the federal or state governments and have a federal GS level of 13 or above, generally executives in their late 30s and older.

Most of the two-day courses are based at the Brookings offices in Dupont Circle, but students go to St. Louis for a few residential courses at Washington University in St. Louis, which accredits the program.

Students have the option of taking a course here and there, or working toward the degree at their own pace.

“It’s a unique program. There’s no sequence, per se, but the courses fit together like a jigsaw puzzle,” says Jackson Nickerson, the program’s associate dean and director.

The Global Public Policy degree at Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) has a similar structure.

The program that will launch next fall is a bit like an M.B.A. rethought for the international relations arena.

Classes will focus on real-world applications, and a weeklong capstone abroad will help students simulate what it’s like to work as an international consultant.

Meeting just twice a week will help the program draw students who work full time and have at least seven years of work experience, but that won’t compromise the material being covered, according to Associate Dean Melissa Trotta.

“We’ve made sure it is a rigorous degree. This is not ‘SAIS light’ in any way,” Trotta says.

Student spotlight

Ray Morris, deputy executive director of the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham in Alabama, was one of Brookings Institution’s first graduate students in 2010. He’ll also be one of the first to graduate with its Master’s of Science in Leadership this month.

The 40-year-old Alabama native already holds a master’s degree and Ph.D., but he said the Brookings program was appealing for its practical application.

“This is the way grad school is supposed to be,” Morris says.

Courses focus on fostering leadership and thinking skills, rather than on nuts-and-bolts concepts that a typical M.B.A. may cover. One class helped Morris find a way to resolve a years-old impasse with a county in his region. They had a database he wanted, but rather than take “no” for an answer, he built his own database and invited the county to participate in it.

“It worked like a charm, and I never would have thought of it,” Morris says.