Surprise! Data science, technology among key higher ed growth areas

23 June 2016 Source: Education Dive Articles

New research from Learning House aims to help colleges and universities think about the future of higher education. While many of the findings should not be a surprise to those inside the evolving educational landscape, "Growth Opportunities in Higher Education: Degrees and Alternate Pathways," may provide some external validation of strategic plans at colleges and universities across the country.

The report projects high-demand online bachelor’s, master’s, MBA and doctoral degree programs of the future, along with alternative learning pathways that are bound to gain in popularity.

"This research underscores that for higher education institutions to thrive, it’s critical that they’re flexible in how, where, and what they offer to students,” said Learning House CEO Todd Zipper in a prepared statement.

That means an increase in online degree programs and new modalities like competency-based education, microdegrees, badges, stackable credentials and digital transcripts, among others.

Degrees identified by Learning House as representing growth potential for colleges and universities on the bachelor’s side include computer science, health information management, market research, digital marketing, data science and project management. For master’s degree programs, the e-learning services company repeats data science and project management and adds accounting, speech pathology and an MBA in IT management. Researchers expect universities will capture more students with Doctor of Business Administration, Doctor of Nursing Practice, and Doctor of Education programs.

Eric LaMott, provost and chief operating officer at Concordia University, St. Paul found much of the report to be good external validation that he and his team are on the right track. They have been designing programs for years now with the umbrella goal of being responsive, relevant and real - responding to student demands, focusing on core competencies that are relevant to students’ career paths and putting those into real context with majors and degree programs.

One key strategy for Concordia has been avoiding a “separation of church and state” when it comes to online versus in person degree programs. Content experts have experience in all of the different modalities Concordia offers and at all the different degree levels.

The key areas Concordia has been targeting are in the business and health sciences space. That includes a new physical therapy degree with occupational therapy on tap next. Perhaps the least surprising growth area named in The Learning House report is the demand for data science, which Concordia, like so many other institutions, has been responding to. It also seems to be on the right track with a new Doctor of Education program.

The largest and fastest growing segment of Concordia University, St. Paul offerings is graduate students, who represent more than one-third of the entire population and are moving closer to half. The traditional population of 18- to 23-year-olds is about a third and the adult undergraduate population is slightly less than a third. The traditional student population is limited by the college’s physical campus, but LaMott said the strategic plan includes growing the number of students coming to Concordia for a master’s.

That seems to be the plan at a lot of institutions. Fully 70% of chief academic leaders surveyed about their futures said online education was going to be a big part of their strategy moving forward. Yet demand for online education is growing more slowly now than it has at any point in the last 20 years.

While there is always a concern of oversupply, one way Concordia plans to address that reality is maintaining a strong regional brand.

“That comes back to having relevant programs,” LaMott said. “If we have programs that meet the needs then we’ll have an audience for them.”

LaMott admits, however, that he’s basically paid to be anxious because the higher education market is shifting all the time. The key, he said, is being mindful of it.

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