Albert Einstein once said: “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.”
As humans, not only do we have a natural inclination towards curiosity, but we also get a sense of pride and accomplishment when we are able to apply knowledge that we’ve acquired to improve some aspect of our lives.
And while it’s true that each day presents us with an opportunity to learn something new, our organized education is not limited to elementary, high school or an undergraduate program at an institution of higher education.
Bernadette Tiernan, executive director of William Paterson University’s School of Continuing and Professional Education (SCPE) explains that people in all stages of life – and nearly any stage of their career – can go “back to school” to further their education in order to acquire knowledge to advance in one way or another.
“Individuals who have completed high school are seeking certifications and licenses for their first job, while workers in their mid-20s aspire to fast-track their careers or relaunch with a new job in a new industry,” Tiernan says. “Unemployed individuals often need to update their technology and job-specific skills to become more competitive; mid-career individuals seek depth in management and leadership skills, which are necessary to advance to senior administrative positions; and people in their 50s and forward are researching encore careers and relevant skills to enter non-profit work, small business, or consulting.”
Popular degree programs for those interested in continuing education are dictated in large part by the economy and industries that are well positioned for future growth and stability.
“The greatest demands that we see are for nationally recognized professional certifications and licenses in high-growth industries,” Tiernan says. “For [the New Jersey] region, the fastest-growing industry sectors are healthcare, technology, advanced manufacturing and computer science/computer information technology.”
SCPE offers hundreds of professional certification programs related to these industries and more. Other popular topics that cross over multiple industry sectors include project management, communication skills, six sigma, digital graphic design and human resource management.
Tiernan adds that in addition to working adults, currently enrolled undergraduate and graduate students may take a continuing education course to acquire an additional license/certification related to their field of study, such as project management.
Alfred Ayoub, director of graduate admissions at Seton Hall’s Stillman School of Business, says that its MBA in finance is consistently his school’s most popular MBA option.
“Typically, students interested in our MS degrees are seeking to pivot to a new career or industry altogether,” Ayoub says. “For example, we offer an MS in accounting program dedicated to students with non-accounting backgrounds. Many students entering this program are seeking to enter the public accounting sphere. However, the MBA programs typically attract students who wish to grow within their organizations. The degree may enhance their path for future promotions, for example.”
While the demand for MBAs remains high, the way in which courses are being applied is changing.
“The demand for full-time MBAs is slowing down,” says Kenneth Hartman, interim vice president, Rowan Global Learning & Partnerships, Rowan University. “It seems as if adults are more interested in the ability to take smaller bites out of the apple. In other words, they may not be interested in getting a full MBA right now, but are interested in taking 2 to 3 courses, that may lead to a certificate, but are also applicable to a master’s degree. Adults want stackable credentials so they don’t have to eat the apple all at once, but instead can take smaller bites over the course of 2 to 4 years.
“We are creating multiple entrance points for adult learners depending on where they are,” Hartman adds. This dynamic affords individuals the ability to take courses at their own pace, and doesn’t discourage those who may not have the time or the money to afford a full course load or program all at once.
Maureen Morrin, associate dean for graduate business programs at Rutgers University–Camden, echoes this sentiment, saying that demand for graduate business education is shifting towards shorter degrees such as: 30-credit master of science degrees focused on a single discipline like accounting, finance or marketing; degrees offered partly or fully online for greater flexibility and convenience; and programs offered in non-traditional formats, such as condensed, weekend or combined weekend-plus-online formats.
“Nowadays fewer professionals are willing to quit working entirely to pursue an MBA for two years on a full-time basis – the traditional MBA delivery method,” Morrin explains. “Alternative formats better address the needs of today’s working professionals. At Rutgers University–Camden, we offer a Professional MBA that allows working students to earn their MBA on weekends and online.”
Speaking of online, demand for online programs has steadily increased over the past decade, according to Tiernan.
“[Busy adults are looking to] acquire skills quickly and to save time and money. Evening and Saturday schedules are very popular for in-person courses, which have the most demand from mid-career adults. Hybrid courses (a combination of in-person and online class sessions) are a preference that crosses all ages,” Tiernan says.
Universities work closely with employers in order to better understand specific industry needs.
Hartman says that Rowan partners with companies that are looking to hire employees with certain skillsets. “We are able to tell people, ‘Come through our program, and if you complete it, we guarantee you a job making, for example, $70,000 per year – and the education is free.’
“It’s a win-win for everybody,” he continues. “The companies receive the employees that have the skills necessary to hit the ground running [after they complete the program], and as an institution, we are paid to deliver the education so we don’t have to charge the student – it’s baked into the salary of the new employee.”
Karen McCaffrey, assistant director for executive education programs, Rutgers University–Camden, says that her institution also develops customized training programs to align with the professional development needs of employees at all levels of management. The programs include a strategic combination of theory and practice, while still allowing the student the flexibility to determine the duration and delivery mode (online, face-to-face and combinations of the two) that works for them.
“We are constantly monitoring workplace developments and adapting our offerings in response,” Morrin says. “For example, there is considerable demand for business professionals with data analytic skills. In response, we are planning to launch a 30-credit Master of Science degree in business analytics, which will be delivered fully online. This program will allow business professionals to acquire the skills needed to know how to collect, clean, analyze, model and mine data that firms possess and from which firms they would like to gain greater insight.”
Fortunately for those looking to satiate their desire to acquire more knowledge via continuing their education, all of the universities mentioned in this article, along with many others across the state, offer top-notch programs and services to aid in this pursuit.
“Personal drive for self-improvement through acquisition of a new set of skills is the foundation,” Tiernan says. “Very few of our students have simple carefree independent lives; most are balancing work and family obligations, struggling for time management and prioritization of demands for their attention. When their personal motivation to succeed in their educational goals is reinforced by a supportive environment of instructors, staff and other program participants, they are poised for success. There is a very positive symbiotic impact.”
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