Develop short-format technology credentials to meet new and accelerated needs during the coronavirus crisis

Expert Insight

Develop short-format technology credentials to meet new and accelerated needs during the coronavirus crisis

COVID-19 has increased demands on the information technology industry and increased need for technical skills such as machine learning and cybersecurity. While technology education programs operate within a highly competitive market, strong opportunities exist to offer short-format technical skill training to serve your regional economy.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how adults demand and integrate technology into their lives, as more people around the country work, shop, learn, and connect remotely. The increased need for technological platforms and high levels of unemployment during the coronavirus crisis have motivated many workers to consider technical training to upskill or change careers. As more professionals seek technical education to “future-proof” their working life, strong opportunities arise for your university to develop technology programs to meet this high demand and serve your regional economy.

What we know now

Demand for technology skills grows while universities’ technology education struggles to keep up with industry skill gaps and the needs of today’s working professionals.

Technology roles and employers retained their position in the workforce better than hard-hit positions in fields like hospitality and retail. The tech industry has seen its S&P performance, which measures the value of stocks of the 500 largest corporations, recover from a late Spring low to surpass its pre-pandemic performance.

Technology remains the strongest sector following the COVID-19 crisis: Performance of the S&P 500 information technology industry in 2020

Performance of technology industry's S&P 500 has steadily increased since April 2020

Serving broad and fast-changing technology needs is challenging, however. Technology offerings require at least annual or better yet twice-annual reviews to ensure curricula remain up to date, given how quickly new skills emerge and old capabilities become outdated.  

Cybersecurity and cloud computing software skills have demonstrated the most growth over the past three years. For example, job postings requesting professionals with knowledge of Microsoft Azure grew over three percent on average every month in the past three years. In 2020, revenue for Amazon Web Services increased over 30 percent in each quarter while Microsoft Azure reported even higher revenue growth rates of 50 percent each quarter. In the COVID-19 economy, employers are investing in cloud technology for storage and information security infrastructure more than ever before. Today’s professionals must learn these technical skills to remain successful in the workplace.

During the past three years, coding languages (e.g., Java, SQL) and software development skills (e.g., Agile software development) represent foundational proficiencies professionals consistently required to work in a technology occupation.

Skills Heatmap for Technology Occupations (August 2017-July 2020)

Skills heatmap for technology occupations showing average monthly proportion of technology job postings and average monthly percent change in proportion.

Technology education programs also represent an increasingly competitive and challenging market at the university level and beyond.

In 2019, almost 1,200 colleges and universities offered a bachelor’s or master’s degree in computer and information science.

While the number of completions has skyrocketed for these technical skills over this time, there are only a few institutions truly capitalizing on this high student enrollment. For example, master’s-level cybersecurity programs reported a 29 percent annual degree completion growth rate from 2014 to 2019. However, the top 20 percent of universities conferred over 80 percent of the degrees in 2019. Last year, the University of Maryland Global Campus alone awarded 1,000 master’s-level cybersecurity degrees, attracting students due to their flexible formatting and partnerships established with government employees. At the remaining master’s-level cybersecurity programs, the median number of degrees conferred was only eight.

As top-performing universities continue to profit from on their own growth, it remains difficult for the remaining schools to stand out in a crowded market.

Enrollment and revenue in coding bootcamps alone has dramatically grown, with over 900 percent growth in the number of students graduating from these programs since 2013 and over 400 percent growth in revenue since 2014.

The coronavirus pandemic has also escalated demand for low-cost, short-format, and flexible technical courses offered by MOOC providers. By mid-April, data science, computer science, and information technology course enrollments surged over three times their yearly averages at Coursera. Udacity reported a 58 percent increase in enrollment in data science courses and a 61 percent increase in neural networks training during the pandemic.

Google’s recently announced Google Career Certificates program offers low-cost six-month training for tech professionals, including IT support specialists, data analysts and UX designers. As Google and other corporate providers continue to develop low-cost and short-format technical training, universities must reformat their portfolio to attract students.

Universities often cannot compete with the low-cost and/or faster time-to-completion offered by these third party vendors and private training organizations. Due to the highly competitive and rapidly changing technology market, your university must intentionally serve your region through employer partnerships or locally specific training to attract students and differentiate your technology programs from free and low-cost offerings. And as noted above, these training subjects will require frequent updates to keep pace with evolving needs.

Time to launch new programs also poses challenges. Short-format credentials often offer a faster launch opportunity than a for-credit or degree program, which can take years to bring from idea to enrollment. In creating programs, instructional staffing proves an additional hurdle in technology education. Instructors are hard to source at all levels, though the flexibility of staffing non-degree and non-credit offerings makes that instruction simpler in comparison to degree programs.

University technology programs have also reached a significant point in terms of partnerships, with vendors playing a large role in technology education. Many colleges and universities lack the internal infrastructure or resources to invest in updating curricula or hiring additional instructors to stay up-to-date on emerging skills. Universities increasingly outsource technology portfolios to third-party vendors who can do this work for them at scale. Trilogy Education Services works with over 45 university partners; their career changer-focused bootcamps have served over 20,000 graduates. The scope and scale of an organization like Trilogy means that they can be more responsive to market appetite, can support student demand with a team of instructors, and can offer other types of support for universities including marketing and career services. However, partnerships require a revenue share, can sacrifice curricular control, and aren’t available to every university or in every region. The ability to execute technology programs competitively or partner for support will dictate universities’ opportunity within this market.

What to watch

What will the pandemic recession’s long-term effects be on the technology industry and student interests?

The Great Recession didn’t significantly impact technology programs’ enrollment trends. From 2008 to 2012, bachelor’s- and master’s-level computer and information science degree completions increased only 0.47 percent on average annually (in comparison to four percent annual growth for all bachelor’s- and master’s-degrees over this time). Differences between the two recessions create uncertainty about what to expect today, however:

  • During this recession, companies worldwide have relied on technological products and innovations to maintain business continuity. The information technology industry remains the best-performing sector of the S&P 500, up 44.1 percent since the start of the coronavirus shutdown. Will this high performance continue, creating need and attracting new workers?
  • The more educated are harder hit by unemployment. Nearly a third of unemployment claims are from workers with at least a bachelor’s degree, far greater than the approximately one-fifth bachelor’s degree holders composed in 2008. Will tech education appear a solution to future proof careers?
  • The recession was spurred by a pandemic and accompanied by unprecedented global disruptions. Your technology degrees are likely the most popular with international students; in 2019, over 156,000 international students were enrolled in US computer and information sciences programs alone. Will these international students return to US and Canadian institutions this year, and will they continue to enroll at such high volumes in the future?

Amid this uncertainty, emerging technologies will continue to be difficult to anticipate, forcing universities to take risks on technology education to keep up with this fast-changing space.

What this means

Short-format courses teaching highly demanded technical skills, like machine learning, will serve your community most effectively

The technology industry is unlikely to slow down as the economy recovers, which will lead to greater program interest as professionals seek opportunities to learn high-need skills. Short-format courses can teach high-demand technical skills in your region, with the flexibility your programs and students need. Neither you nor your students can wait years to launch or complete degree programs, while alternative credentials can deliver needed skills more quickly. For the long-term, invest in keeping both degree and alternative credential programs up-to-date with skills needed by today’s employers.

What’s next?

We’re continuing to watch job postings trends as well as adjustments to employment projections, and to monitor trends our partner colleges and universities are reporting. Expect updates to this analysis as we learn more this year.

In the meantime, access our previous analysis of alternative business offerings and check out our regional profiles to see what roles rank among the most demanded jobs for your area. Additionally, you may be interested in our COVID-19 Resource Center for professional and adult education units.

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