Curriculum of the Future
Business, English and communications may still be among the most popular degrees students pursue in college, but as changing technology and social trends create new opportunities in a job-strapped economy, some institutions are beginning to offer programs in everything from social media to homeland security to prepare students for life in the 21st Century.
Colleges introduce new programs for a variety of reasons. Some do so in response to demand from local companies, like the Institute of Analytics at the State University of North Carolina, which began in part after faculty noticed the growing demand for people who could handle the increasing amounts of data local research companies manage.
Others, like the global studies program at Hofstra University in New York, are driven by student interest and help the school attract and retain candidates.
“Students are looking for really relevant, current disciplines,” said Grant Saff, professor and chair of the global studies and geography department at Hofstra. Since the program began, it has continued to grow as overall enrollment declined.
MainStreet took a look at 10 of the new majors that help prepare students for jobs across a wide array of fields from technology to management. But all of them have one thing in common: They are designed to train students in emerging areas of study that shape today’s economy.
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Biomedical engineers study biology, medicine and engineering to create and design new medical devices. A handful of colleges have been offering degrees in this field since the mid-1970s, but growth in this area as a separate discipline really took off in the late ‘90s when advances in science such as the human genome project created a need for more specialized engineers, said Dr. Richard Waugh, professor and chair of the department of biomedical engineering at the University of Rochester. He points to the added benefit of helping patients as another reason the program has continued to draw interest.
“Biomedical engineering can be a very rewarding field,” Waugh said. “There is a real social impact in what you are trying to do.”
At Rochester, students spend much of their senior year creating prototypes for different clients that approach the school with specific needs. After completing an undergraduate degree, Waugh said students may get jobs at large companies like Johnson & Johnson (Stock Quote: JNJ) or start-ups pioneering new devices. More than half of students will go on to a graduate-level program.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that this field will grow 72% during the next decade, making it the fastest-growing industry the agency tracks. Biomedical engineers make an average of more than $84,000 a year.
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During the past decade, as companies began moving more of their business online, some universities saw the need to create degree programs that give students technical computer skills, but with a business background. These interdisciplinary programs may be called e-commerce, e-marketing or e-business and areas of concentration vary from program to program.
“We try to straddle the gap between business and the technology behind it,” said Dr. Sharma Pillutla, chair of the Department of e-Business and Technology Management at Towson University in Maryland.
E-business programs have had to evolve with new technology. When the Towson program began, Pillutla said, it was called e-commerce and the focus was on building online storefronts. But today, companies increasingly use the network technology in all facets of their operations.
The curriculum has changed to accommodate new trends in areas like social media, and Pillutla says the school tries to incorporate new technology into the programs within a year – sometimes within a semester – of their creation to keep the program relevant. Technology used to enable a business model, he says, but today technology is a driving force behind entirely new business models.
“In this highly hyper-competitive market, businesses have to be agile and we have that technology,” Pillutla said.
After graduating, he notes that many students go into e-marketing, search engine optimization positions or work as e-business analysts.
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Video and Computer Game Development and Design
In the early 2000s, only a handful of schools offered degree programs in video and computer game design but in the 2010-2011 school year, about 300 schools in the U.S. did according to the Entertainment Software Association. This is up nearly 20% from the prior school year.
Students in video and computer game design programs may take classes in software development, 3-D technology, animation and design. While students focus on games, Professor Andrew Phelps, Director of the newly created School of Interactive Games & Media at the Rochester Institute of Technology, said the skill set that his students learn is broadly applicable to a range of fields. Many companies, law enforcement agencies and medical institutions apply this technology to create training programs.
RIT offers both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Game Design and Development, and after graduating, Phelps says students go on to work for companies like Lockheed Martin, Nickelodeon and others, but also that many join or create their own start-ups. One of those, Dark Wind Media, creates apps for smartphones.
“They started out as a two- or three-person company and now they growing like gangbusters to try to meet the demand,” he said.
In its report, “Video Games in the 21rst Century,” the ESA found that the industry outpaced growth in the American economy, with growth in employment averaging 8.65% each year between 2005 and 2009, though the BLS predicts a 3% pullback during the next decade.
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Since Sept. 11, the number of schools offering programs in emergency management has nearly tripled, growing from about 70 to about 230 in 2010, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
While all schools shape the undergraduate and graduate degrees differently, this major focuses on preparing students for managing unforeseen events at all levels from companies to communities to larger macro-events such as natural disasters and terrorist attacks.
“Emergency management is a very exciting field to be in,” said Dr. Carol Cwiak, executive director at the Emergency Management Higher Education Consortium and professor and internship coordinator of emergency management at North Dakota State University. “Basically, you get to be a superhero just by using your brain.”
Currently, the school offers training in emergency management all the way up to the Ph.D. level as an interdisciplinary program that prepares students for managerial roles in schools, hospitals, utilities, transportation and other fields. But Cwiak said it has also become a popular minor for students in business and environmental programs.
The BLS predicts that jobs for emergency management specialist will grow much faster than average during the next decade.
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With the massive amounts of data companies deal with these days, they need people to manage information like calls to a customer care center to credit card transactions efficiently. The BLS predicts job growth in the next decade by about 20%, with the analytics industry adding about 24,000 jobs during that time. Still, few schools offer degree programs in analytics.
North Carolina State University is one of those schools that do, and Michael Rappa, director of the Institute for Advanced Analytics there, says that “in this case, it was more of a driving need in the marketplace.”
As many as 97% of the 2011 graduates received job offers and 72% received two or more, despite the overall weakness of the job market. They are still not able to meet student demand though, as interest regularly outstrips available space in the program, he says.
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New Media Studies
With the growth in online and digital media, students and scholars are increasingly interested in studying these emerging fields in the world of journalism. Students take courses in digital media, audio and visual production, web design, and media history. One hot trend in this field is incorporating courses in social media. The New School in Manhattan, Alma College in Alma, Mich. and others have started offering classes examining how sites like Facebook impact society.
Alma College is offering a new major in the New Media Studies this fall, but some communications students already focus on new media, said Joanne Gilbert, chair of Alma College’s communication and new media studies department. This student interest encouraged the school to create a new interdisciplinary major to guide students more directly in this field, Gilbert said.
“The field is just so wide open because it’s such a developing field,” said Joanne Gilbert. “I think some of the kinds of jobs that are students are going to get haven’t even been created yet.”
While the field is still emerging, sites like Monster.com have job listings for positions such as social media consultants and digital media planners. But Gilbert said that the major will also prepare students for fields such as graphic design, audio and visual arts, gaming and simulation, e-text creation and web publication.
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With a recent string of highly publicized hacker attacks in which groups such as Lulzsec have hacked Sony, Citigroup and the CIA, security is a growing concern for consumers, businesses and organizations.
The Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership between the FBI, the National White Collar Crime Center and the Bureau of Justice Assistance received 303,809 complaints of cybercrime last year, according to its 2010 annual report.
While some organizations appear to hack as a way of creating mischief, there is also a monetary incentive for criminals, Amy Podaradksky of Drexel University said. The risk-reward ratio for a criminal who accesses consumer data can be much higher than for a bank robber for example, since there is a much lower risk of hackers getting caught.
In Drexel’s “computer and security” major, computer security is one of the two concentrations students can target. They study operating systems like Linux, data mining and ethical hacking to expose security breaches. While the BLS does not specifically track computer security, they predict jobs in the computer network field are expected to grow 30% in the next decade.
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In response to anticipated job growth in the green sector and heavy student interest, many schools like the University of Florida and Hofstra are adding bachelors and masters degrees in programs that range from a more science-based focus to more interdisciplinary liberal arts-based approaches.
Les Thiele, director of sustainability studies at the University of Florida, said the school designed its degree program as a liberal arts major with a scientific focus and will incorporate professors from a variety of disciplines. The degree will include courses in agriculture, policy and even religion. He said it will also incorporate classes in the specific professional schools for students interested in areas like architecture and design. Student interest was one of the driving factors in the creation of the new major.
“It became one of the more popular majors in a very short period of time,” Thiele said.
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Global StudiesAs companies continue to adopt a more international outlook and the global marketplace becomes increasingly interconnected, many schools have begun to offer interdisciplinary programs that look at global issues. Hofstra University is one of those that currently offering degrees in this area. Saff of the global studies and geography department at the school said this major was widely driven by student interest and has become a popular major at the university. Students can take classes in globalization, human trafficking and other international issues.
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Homeland Security Management
In 2003, hundreds of government organizations were reorganized under the newly created Department of Homeland Security, prompting some schools like Drexel University, the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Central Penn College to offer degree programs in the field.
“Our true focus is preparing students for the real world,” said Samuel Morgan, professor of criminal justice and homeland security at Central Penn in Harrisburg, Penn.
Morgan came on board in 2008 to help the school develop the program, which started in 2006. He worked closely with the Naval Postgraduate Academy to frame a practical program that focuses on real life applications of security initiatives. The students at Central Penn take classes in terrorism, security management and emergency management, but they also can take classes in areas like law and data mining.
Students do internships with the FBI, White House and with local law enforcement agencies, with jobs after graduation commonly in the public sector or managing security for private companies, which Morgan said can be a more lucrative option. As of 2008, the Homeland Security department employed more than 170,000 people, according to the BLS.
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