Higher Ed

A ‘Degree’ of Difference

Graduate programs at New Jersey colleges and universities are reflecting the shifting wants of a new generation. Today’s graduate students, increasingly more technology savvy and driven by social responsibility, are demanding a post-graduate education that will prepare them for a more purposeful life.

New Jersey’s 60 colleges and universities compete fiercely for approximately 65,000 graduate students. As a result, variety abounds.

But which programs are winning young hearts and minds?

Popular paths include education, science and healthcare-related degrees. If that sounds downright dull, the spice is revealed in the degree titles that unveil some interesting fields of study. The College of New Jersey (TCNJ), for example, serves approximately 700 graduate students. Offering 20 different graduate programs, the school’s most popular degree tracks are focused on education and healthcare paths.

“We have always had a strong legacy in education,” says Stephen Tomkiel, TCNJ’s MBA director. “After that, nursing and related healthcare degrees lead in popularity, as well as our counseling program.” Far from traditional, however, Tomkiel notes there is fast-growing demand for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education at TCNJ.

A similar situation exists at Kean University, where STEM represents a large and growing program. Other top degree paths include Early Childhood Education, M.A. with an Advanced Curriculum and Teaching Option as well as Computer Information Systems, M.S., and Science and Technology-Biotechnology Option, M.S. or Science and Technology-Computational Science and Engineering Option, M.S. The latter degrees reflect an increasing interest in careers related to big data.

“One thing that we see at Kean is that data science has become a very hot area, both from the perspective of employers and for people preparing to enter jobs in data analytics in various capacities,” notes Kean University Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs David S. Birdsell, Ph.D. “It’s a wide field with many paths. Some are aligned with computer science; others are aligned with areas that avail themselves of those kinds of business information, from understanding customer relationships to medical data.”

Innovation in healthcare and clinical studies is also driving interest in medical-related careers. “Healthcare programs are our largest classes due to the employment needs in the area as well as our educational programs,” confirms Leamor Kahanov, provost and vice president of academic affairs at Stockton University.

With 19 different graduate degree paths, Stockton is home to about 1,000 graduate students. According to Kahanov, clinical therapy and occupational therapy are two rapidly growing graduate program tracks.

The same is true at Kean University: “So many of our most popular programs over the last three years are related to health,” notes Dr. Birdsell. “In the sciences, we’ve seen a rise in interest in our genetics counseling programs.”

Global issues are also sparking interest in new graduate programs. At Stockton, for instance, programs relating to law, human rights and sustainability are finding a growing audience. Robert R. Heinrich, Ed. D. chief enrollment management officer for Stockton relates, “Students are attracted to our graduate studies programs in marine science as well as in criminal justice and our Masters in Education in Leadership and Social Justice. In addition, our coastal zone management program, as well as our holocaust and genocide studies programs, have grown with increasing interest from this generation.”

The Rise of Certificate Programs

Schools are also supplementing graduate degree programs with certificate-earning classes. Certificate programs provide graduate-level specialization aimed at broadening a student’s skillsets. TCNJ’s Tomkiel explains, “These are targeted courses, like our educational leadership program, which is a perfect add-on for someone who knows they want to lead a school; or specialization courses, like data analytics. Certificate programs are an alternative to a full degree; where they acquire specific knowledge instead – or on top of – a Master’s program.” Businesses increasingly use certificate programs (such as data analytics) to provide employees with specific skill sets in emerging areas important to their employers.

New Degree Program Development

New Jersey’s universities are actively listening to their students, their competition, and their business and industry leaders, and using a strategic marketing approach to program development.

Stockton’s Provost, Dr. Kahanov, notes, “We have advisory boards for all of our professional programs. Our healthcare programs include our area hospitals, which provide input as to the emerging needs and program input as to their requirements. For example, we would not have a program on respiratory therapy 10 years ago without the input from our hospital community.”

Kean University’s Dr. Birdsell relates a similar approach. “To create new programs for graduates, you need to be in touch with markets, you need to be in touch with employers who are addressing these markets, and you need to be able to think about the scientific and technical discoveries that are driving success in these fields.”

According to Stockton’s Dr. Kahanov, “When we are thinking about new programs, we ask our community members and advisory groups to share their thoughts. We also rely heavily on the input of our faculty experts as well. Of course, we do a full market analysis: Are we going to have places to train these individuals? What is the employment rate in the area? Is this (new program) something that is going to add to the community? Will students come to the area for the program?

It takes about two years to start a program, including a robust internal review process as well as state approvals and possibly professional accreditation. Many of our graduate programs are designed to provide a seamless path from undergrad through graduate and possibly beyond,” Dr. Kahanov says.

As for education’s connection to the business community, Kean University’s Dr. Birdsell succinctly explains the holistic thinking of graduate education today: “We are trying to dispense with the old notion of having a sort of silo career; that you will be in either business or in a nonprofit or in government or in healthcare. Not that you will hold jobs in all of these sectors; but that you will be able to understand the circuit. If you are not able to understand supply chains, for example, you are not going to be able to be successful.”

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