It’s no surprise that demand for tech professionals has reached new heights. And universities and students alike are rushing to meet this demand. Across the last decade, degree completions in master’s-level technology programs increased 11.78 percent on average per year, based on an analysis of 10 CIP codes in the “Computer and Information and Support Services” CIP grouping. But at the same time, non-university providers have increased and diversified the number of technology programs available to students.
So how can universities design tech programs to stand out in this increasingly competitive market? After advising more than 40 colleges and universities on 40-plus technology programs in the past year through EAB’s Market Insights service, I can offer three ways to make your graduate technology programs stand out in a crowded market.
1. Eliminate barriers to entry to encourage students of all experience levels to apply
In a field as competitive as tech, it’s especially important that your program’s admissions criteria are competitive with those of peer and competitor programs. Ensure neither your admissions criteria nor policies pose any unnecessary barriers to entry, which could lead students to write your program off before applying. Time and again, our research has that found admission criteria, such as GPA minimums, required admission tests, and application fees, can deter graduate adult learners from applying. Consider adopting a more holistic admission process to appeal to applicants from a wider variety of educational and professional backgrounds.
Given the growing number of professionals who seek to enter tech roles from other fields, consider how your admissions policies could hinder enrollments from students without significant prior tech experience. For example, instead of requiring a bachelor’s degree in a tech discipline (such as computer science), consider opening programs to students with undergraduate degrees across disciplines and identifying prerequisite coursework to equip students from non-technical backgrounds to succeed.
While Carnegie Mellon University, which offers one of the nation’s top computer science programs, recommends a technical undergraduate background for admission into the M.S. in Computer Science program, there is not a specific degree required for consideration into the program.
New York University takes a different approach to preparing students without technical backgrounds for graduate study. NYU offers a one-year preparatory course for promising applicants to the M.S. in Computer Science program who do not meet admission prerequisites.
2. Offer specializations or tracks within programs to allow students to customize their degree
As technology evolves and the skills employers seek become more specialized, it’s even more important that students can tailor their degree to fit their career aspirations. Consider adding concentrations or customizable course sequences so students can adjust the program to fit their interests. Additionally, creating paths to industry certifications may appeal to students looking to build their resumes.
Offering opportunities for customization is one way to help your program confer skills in emerging areas. Check out our new research about how colleges and universities can adjust their academic programming to keep pace with technological advancements in emerging fields such as smart manufacturing and fintech.
Georgia Institute of Technology, which offers another leading graduate Computer Science program, offers 12 program specializations to enable students to customize their degree. These specializations include Computational Perception and Robotics, Computer Graphics, Human-Computer Interaction, and Machine Learning.
3. Align undergraduate and graduate technology program portfolios to encourage a pipeline between programs
Where possible, create opportunities for current students to continue their technical education at your institution. One way to do so is via a 4+1 or 3+2 program. Our researchers have found that most institutions can use existing courses to develop these programs, limiting the need to devote new resources to the development of a 4+1 or 3+2 program.
The University of Texas at Dallas offers a Fast Track program for undergraduate students so they can earn a BS and MS in Computer Science and Software Engineering in approximately five years of full-time study.
Regardless of the specific program design tactics you use to optimize your tech portfolio for growth, ensure your marketing messages are tailored to meet each student’s intent when exploring tech programs. From career advancers to career changers, tech programs are well-positioned to help professionals across the board take the next step in their careers.
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Strong graduate outcomes also distinguish programs from competitors – check out our roadmap to Develop Outcomes-Focused Recruitment Messages for Adult Learners.