Attracting and Retaining Adults: Programs Leading to Professions Are Among the Most SuccessfulJennifer Kalfsbeek-Goetz | Dean of Business, Science, Child Development and Distance Education, Moorpark College
Contemporary adult learners are savvy consumers of education. They’ve experienced multiple economic crises, under- and unemployment and they are more prudent in their spending. Unlike many traditional-age students who go to college with undeclared majors unabashedly admitting they are not sure what they want to be when they grow up, mature adult learners seek education that directly leads to rewarding careers with opportunities to enhance their quality of life.
Universities cannot guarantee employment upon graduation; if we could, we would have already found the magic bullet for creating successful programs. However, universities can offer programs that prepare graduates for required certification or licensure in professions, or that lead to highly sought-after credentials that are required to land specific career jobs and titles.
In terms of program development, I’m thrilled when a new project will focus on a program that leads to professional licensure/certification or a degree that serves as the minimum credential needed for specific professional roles. Programs that are profession-specific, in high-demand fields, are highly likely to be successful.
Of course, every institution makes program choices grounded in their mission, strategic priorities, areas of expertise and of course their institutional culture. A one-size-fits-all approach toward program development will not be successful. To that end, this piece shares some success stories that illustrate how my institution has effectively built long-standing programs that are directly linked to high-demand professions, both in fields that require professional licensure or certification and those that don’t.
Professions Requiring Professional Licensure or Certification
At my institution, the Tseng College of Graduate, International and Midcareer Education at California State University-Northridge (CSUN), we offer several programs aimed at preparing learners to become professionally licensed and/or certified. These are among our most successful programs in that we attract far more applicants than needed for each cohort, applicants are among the most qualified for university admission, and the jobs alumni obtain after graduation are typically prestigious and well paid.
For example, in order to become a licensed speech-language pathologist (SLP), professionals must earn a master’s degree in speech-language pathology and successfully pass the national licensure exam. In terms of employment, the SLP employment market is projected to grow by nearly 20 percent in the next decade, well above the national average across occupations.
Similarly, while many work in the social work field, licensed social workers with a master’s degree in social work are coveted by employers. This employment market is projected to grow by 19 percent in the next decade.
Lastly, to become a Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA), one needs to earn a BACB-approved master’s degree, complete practica hours, and pass the BCBA certification exam. The employment market for these professionals is as high as 31 percent in parts of the U.S.
In each of these instances, CSUN receives more than double the number of applicants needed to fill cohorts—in some cases we are running double cohorts to meet the demand.
Professions That Don’t Require Professional Licensure or Certification
Some high-demand careers are not highly regulated by associations or the government. Many upper-management positions require that an applicant possess an MBA. Though the tides are changing for the MBA education and professional market towards what appears to be a preference for specialized graduate management programs like Engineering Management or Hospitality Management, MBA programs in the U.S. have flourished for decades. Conversely, we have also seen success in other areas that require a specific degree to attain a professional position.
Adults who wish to advance in public health seek to earn the Master’s of Public Health degree to obtain elevated positions in this growing profession. Our MPH program has grown in the past few years alongside the nation’s expanding healthcare industry. The Public Health employment market is projected to grow by up to 21 percent the next decade.
Additionally, the Master of Public Administration (MPA) credential is typically preferred—and oftentimes required—for public servants seeking leadership roles in local, state and federal government. CSUN recognized this trend over 25 years ago, and today we are the nation’s third-largest MPA educational provider. The Public Administration employment market is projected to grow by 11 to 23 percent the next decade.
Programs directly linked to professions through licensure, certification or specific minimum degree-type requirements sell themselves. If a university possesses faculty with the expertise in a field akin to those mentioned above, or has the ability to acquire it, I strongly recommend they consider programs in like fields.
Are the creative juices flowing yet? If so, check out recent research conducted by the Education Advisory Board on state market demands: EAB employer demand market data by state 2015. EAB identifies real-time employer demand market data, and shares the top professional job titles and positions that are in demand (by state) today. Maybe your institution’s next program can be found in these high-demand areas?
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All employment trend information is based on 2015 data reported by The Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the United States Department of Labor.
This is the second installment of an ongoing series by Jennifer Kalfsbeek breaking down the top-10 features of programs designed for busy adult students.
Author Perspective: Administrator