In era of fiscal concern, colleges look to new degree programs to boost bottom lines
New programs, particularly in STEM fields, expand opportunities for enrollment and development
The Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education recently revealed that costs are the number one challenge to college access in the state and that without significant investments in need-based scholarships, the region’s workforce will suffer from a lack of qualified employees.
While private and public support of scholarships continues to remain a top priority for many institutions, some campuses are countering the rising cost trend in an unexpected way: adding more degree programs.
Georgia Tech is among hundreds of schools looking to attract more students and invite more private support through the establishment of new academic offerings. This week, the university announced plans for a fall launch of a new online master’s degree program in analytics, its second computer science-based distance learning program that will be offered for less than $10,000 developed in the last two years.
Officials called the program a strategic effort to boost opportunities for working professionals and to meet the nation’s objectives in STEM advancement.
“It is a national imperative for universities to offer high-quality degree programs at an affordable price and Georgia Tech has developed a model that delivers the rigor of the campus curriculum to online students worldwide,” said Gary S. May, dean of the College of Engineering and Southern Company Chair, said in a release. “OMS Analytics gives professionals access to world-class faculty and instruction at a competitive tuition rate. Learners will benefit from the intersection of technology, leadership, decision-making, and innovation, which are highly sought-after traits for engineers and business leaders.”
But not areas of the academic enterprise are receiving equal consideration under the banner of expanding research and access.
The cost of doing new academic business
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, colleges and universities employ more than 1.5 million part-time and full-time professors, a number which reflects billions nationwide in benefits. The movement to increase compensation for adjunct professors and graduate assistants has the potential to bloat that number and has prompted lawmakers in states like Wisconsin and Iowa to propose termination for its public university tenure and promotion systems.
But officials at Georgia Tech say that their initial online computer science degree launch has increased enrollment by more than 4,000 students in two years, a trend that has surfaced at other schools like Penn State University, which is adding more full-time faculty to meet the needs of several new degree programs.
“In order to ensure stability, success and quality of the degrees we offer, we have to hire faculty,” said Marwan Wafa, chancellor of the Worthington Scranton campus.
Aligning program growth with strategic objectives
Officials at Vanderbilt University also say that industrial growth is a key aspect of identifying and executing potential new ground for program development. The school recently announced a new degree program in cyber-physical systems for launch this fall, which aligns with the university’s strategic plan and long-term financial objectives.
“The proposed program complements existing education and research efforts at Vanderbilt University that include substantial research funding, synergistic activities in the strategic plan of the university, and educational programs from research oriented degrees to undergraduate student competitions,” says Xenofon Koutsoukos, faculty director of the CPS master’s program and professor of computer science, computer engineering and electrical engineering. “The new degree program will leverage existing resources and complementary efforts and will provide students with an interdisciplinary education on CPS that is at very high demand.”
Koutsoukos says that industrial partnerships are also key to establishing and supporting new programs, particularly in emerging industries where innovation is critical for growth.
“We have many industry-based partnerships and collaborations and there is a significant demand for CPS engineers for innovation and development of [Internet of Things] applications. We expect that these partnerships will support both student enrollment and placement of graduates.”