“Even colleges that don’t guarantee jobs are scrambling to add subjects that connect with real-world demand. Higher education institutions nationwide added 55,416 new programs in the five years ending in 2017, the last period for which the federal government has figures. Nearly 400 now offer credentials in cybersecurity, for example, for which demand is growing three times faster than for other IT jobs, according to the labor market analytics firm Burning Glass Technologies.
“Employability and a school’s ability to provide students with access to successful employment is now the key factor in our programming,” said John LaBrie, dean of the School of Professional Studies at Clark University, which, among other subjects, just began offering a graduate certificate in the timely area of regulating legalized marijuana.
Lehigh University has started hiring faculty for a new college of health, part of a plan to add 1,800 students. Other universities are forming partnerships with private, for-profit coding boot camps to which they worried they were losing customers. The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in August became the latest to team up with the coding school Thinkful. Rice University in September added a financial technology program to the data analytics and cybersecurity boot camps it launched last year with Trilogy Education Services.
“Those are the kinds of places you can pick up dollars,” said Paul Freedman, cofounder and CEO of the innovation strategy firm the Entangled Group. “A lot of the focus has been on picking up pennies, like by making sure that students stick around longer.”
If it seems odd for colleges and universities to try to attract more customers by promising results that people might have been expecting anyway — degrees within four years, with jobs at the end — some of their strategies underscore the magnitude of the challenges they face.