Executive education is a customer-driven business—universities offer the degrees, certificate programs, and noncredit courses, but the subject matter is determined largely by what potential students and corporate clients ask for. Class schedules are designed for working professionals, and real-world experience is a part of many programs because that’s what students want.
This “ask and you shall receive” system means that new programs are always in the works. According to officials at a handful of local universities, the following are four trends they’re responding to.
Coursework needs to lead to a raise or a job promotion
Walter Rankin, interim dean of Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies, says his school and others are moving toward more industry-specific learning. For example, the school will be offering programs in emergency and disaster management as well as digital-media management. A health-coaching-and-patient-navigation certificate program will be introduced this fall.
Says Rankin: “Interest has trended away from more general studies, such as our master of arts in liberal studies, and toward targeted-industry and applied professional-skills degree programs, such as the master of professional studies.”
He adds that there’s a growing demand for academic programs that help professionals advance their careers. Education is an investment, but in this economy many people don’t consider it worthwhile unless the likely return is a higher salary or increased opportunity. Studying subjects just to know more about them or because they’re interesting may be a thing of the past.
Mark Kennedy, director of George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management, agrees: “The programs that are suffering are those that don’t tie really tightly into a career path.”
Students want to prepare for jobs of the future
Kennedy says new programs also tap into trends. A two-year master’s in sustainable urban planning, for example, couldn’t have been supported 20 years ago but fills a recently popular niche. The program’s tuition of about $40,000 covers 48 credits’ worth of courses in policy, commercial development, and “green” building that Kennedy says equip the clean-city builders of the future for jobs as urban planners.
To cater to student demand, some programs pool the resources of multiple schools within a university. Roy Hinton, associate dean of executive education at George Mason’s School of Management, calls its recently launched cybersecurity program a perfect example. Run jointly by the schools of management, public policy, and engineering, the MS in management of secure information systems costs about $50,000 in tuition and takes just under a year and a half to complete, with classes on Saturdays.
Hinton says that this and other topics made necessary by the marriage of new technology and globalization are increasingly popular at Mason. Though his school has seen consistent interest in courses that build broad business acumen or teach change management, newer topics such as cybersecurity and big-data analytics are generating the most new interest.
The University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business has also heard calls for analytics and cybersecurity programs, responding by creating master’s tracks in both. Also new in the business school: a program in leadership and executive coaching, in collaboration with the school of education, starting in 2014.
Usable job skills and class flexibility are deciding factors
Liz Barron, senior director of custom programs at the University of Maryland’s school of business, says the most consistent trend is that “people want highly applicable education.”
Whether a company is paying for an employee to attend a series of classes that already exist or collaborating with a university to build a new program from scratch, obvious results are required. “Students and organizations want applied, action learning,” Hinton says. “Businesses want people in leadership roles to walk away with more financial acumen and an understanding of business as a whole, not just of their jobs.”
They also want flexibility. Local universities have found that students and corporations aren’t looking for entirely in-classroom experiences, but they don’t feel they’d learn enough from online-only formats. So schools are creating an increasing number of blended environments—combining classroom time with online discussion and solo preparation.
According to Hinton, the idea of a “flipped classroom”—in which students absorb lecture material on their own and then do practice work, traditionally called homework, in the classroom—is one his school is working to embrace: “That’s what people want. They want to do a lot more prep on their own.”
Networking is a priority
Increased knowledge and tangible job skills are great, but without a workplace in which to apply them, they don’t matter much. In an economy that has driven more people back to school only to emerge on the other side still jobless, networking has become increasingly vital.
That’s why, Georgetown’s Walter Rankin says, building personal and professional connections is now a larger aspect of continuing education, particularly in the school’s public-relations, real-estate, and sports-industry-management programs—which happen to be the most popular and among the most competitive. He points out three levels of networking inside the classroom.
First, frequent group projects require students to get to know one another and work together. “That builds a huge network of people who may be your colleagues or references for you once you graduate,” Rankin says. “Or you can hire them or they can hire you.”
Second, interaction with professors—many of whom work full-time in the fields they teach—can be invaluable and can often help students secure jobs after graduation.
Finally, he says, the guest lecturers who regularly visit Georgetown’s campus—either to speak to one class or to make a larger presentation—include those who are highly successful in their fields. “We aren’t able to guarantee a job for every person, but we can guarantee that you will meet people who are succeeding in the field you want to get into, and that’s very important.”
This article appears in the March 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.