Getting Ahead: 4 Trends in Executive Education

Want to earn more money? Get a promotion? Local universities may have a class for you.
Networking is now a bigger part of adult-ed programs.
Networking is now a bigger part of adult-ed programs.

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.

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