The first US COVID-19 case was reported in late February, and in mid-March state governments began issuing stay-at-home orders. Across this time, employers began freezing hiring, instituting furloughs, and laying off staff. While the total impact on our economy will take months to unfold, EAB is providing initial analyses for key fields to inform program planning conversations, and will update as we learn more.
As the COVID-19 pandemic shut the world down and focused attention on public health and epidemiology, college and university leadership anticipated increased growth in student and employer demand for non-clinical health care skills and degrees. Requests for Market Insights reports to investigate local demand for public health or epidemiology programs increased over 150% in April to July 2020 when compared to the same time last year. However, the United States has historically underinvested in public health infrastructure and systems across the country. More than 75% of Americans live in states which spend less than $100 per capita annually on public health. While we reported earlier that clinical health care education will likely only face short-term declines in interest, it remains less clear how the COVID-19 crisis will impact employer and student demand across non-clinical health care fields in the future.
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What we know: Health administration and public health employer demand have remained stable, while health informatics employer demand continues its decline
Three non-clinical health sub-fields merit attention for their size and/or importance in responding to the pandemic crisis: health administration, public health, and health informatics. Within non-clinical health occupations, employer demand for health administration professionals remains the strongest in terms of size and stability, with over 200,000 related jobs posted in the last 12 months and an average decline in job postings of 2.7%, less than the average decline for all professionals over the same time (4.2% on average).
Public health remains a relatively small field, with fewer than 50,000 jobs posted nationally over the past 12 months and no surge in job postings during the COVID-19 pandemic like many university administrators were expecting. However, employer demand for public health professionals declined the least of all analyzed subject areas, decreasing only 1.9% on average over the past year. While health informatics had historically been a growing subject area, national employer demand has declined 5.5% starting 12 months ago, decreasing even further as the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States in March 2020. As hospital and health systems began to face budget cuts due to lost elective procedures and the cost of treating coronavirus patients, these were likely among the first positions eliminated or frozen for hiring.
Average decline in national employer demand (July 2019-June 2020)
-4.2 % decline in employer demand for all professionals over the same time
Medical and Health Services Managers
Professionals with Public Health Skills
Professionals with Health Informatics Skills
Health administration: Stabilizer program with high employer demand and lower than average decline
Source: Emsi Analyst
Most job postings (39%) request professionals with a bachelor’s degree while 23% request professionals with a master’s degree. Employers seek health administration professionals for leadership roles which emphasize business and management skills.
Across the last five years of available data, the average growth in the number of students completing health administration degrees increased steadily. Health administration has historically been a cornerstone of undergraduate and graduate portfolios with almost 450 institutions offering related bachelor’s-level programs and over 315 institutions offering related master’s-level degrees.
Public health: Unlikely to surge due to lower employer demand and only lower than average decline, not growth
Source: Emsi Analyst
While many more in the public may now know what an epidemiologist does, the global pandemic has not increased employer demand for epidemiologists or other non-clinical health occupations since March. Organizations are increasingly consulting with epidemiologists on a temporary basis, asking for their approval of reopening plans and policies, but few companies are hiring a full-time epidemiologist or public health specialist for the long-term.
Most job postings (56%) request professionals with a bachelor’s degree while 44% request professionals with a master’s degree. Employers seek public health professionals for research and management roles where they need subject matter expertise and data skills.
Over the past five years of available data, the average growth of public health completions met or exceeded the average growth in the number of institutions offering public health programs across all analyzed degree levels. Growth in bachelor’s-level public health conferrals is concentrated within large flagship public institutions, including Rutgers University and the University of Maryland. In contrast, growth in master’s-level public health degree completions remains largely at selective private institutions, like Johns Hopkins University and George Washington University. Public health degrees have become an increasingly popular program for universities to offer as student demand continues to show strong signs of growth. In 2019, over 400 institutions offered bachelor’s-level public health programs and over 350 offered master’s-level public health programs.
Health informatics: Worsening market with lowest employer demand and worse than average decline
Source: Emsi Analyst
Most job postings (40%) request professionals with a bachelor’s degree while 34% of job postings request professionals with a high school level education. Employers seek professionals with health informatics skills to work in leadership and data analysis roles where they can apply highly demanded management and coding skills.
The number of students completing master’s-level health informatics programs has skyrocketed while the number of students completing bachelor’s-level health informatics degrees has declined on average over the past five years of available data. However, in comparison to the other non-clinical health fields analyzed here, health informatics remains a relatively small field, with fewer than 2,000 students completing related degrees nationally at the bachelor’s- or master’s-level in 2019.
What do watch: Will the COVID-19 crisis escalate student demand for non-clinical health care skills and degrees?
While COVID-19 did not impact student interest in clinical health fields largely, many colleges and universities expected significant increases in student demand for non-clinical health care fields due to the expanding focus on these subjects nationwide. Monitoring student search behavior will help institutions anticipate how these programs may fare long term.
Student interest in public health as a field of study increased in mid-March when the country first began shutting down due to COVID-19 but has since stabilized to slightly above normal pre-pandemic levels. Many professional and adult education units also reported increased online traffic to their public health program websites in recent months, but it remains to be determined whether this increased traffic will lead to more students submitting applications and enrolling in these non-clinical health care programs. Health administration and health informatics searches were not as affected by the pandemic, but have consistently been far more frequent than public health queries.
Interest over time in non-clinical health fields as measured by Google search trends
Beyond student behaviors, larger policy decisions will also foreshadow impacts on non-clinical health programs. Availability of public health careers, and the ensuing student interest, will depend on future public health funding. Despite modest increases in the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s budget for the most recent fiscal year, its funding remains only slightly above fiscal year 2008 levels after adjusting for inflation, despite fast growing demand for public health services. To make matters worse, even when the government approves budget increases to address global diseases like Zika virus and H1N1, budgets often return to pre-pandemic levels once the crisis passes. In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, many experts expect the cycle to repeat itself once again. An unlikely renewed and sustained commitment to public health would significantly impact expectations for related programs, however.
What this means: The coronavirus crisis is unlikely to disrupt existing trends in demand for non-clinical health care skills and programs
While the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how we work, learn, and connect with others, it seems to only be affirming rather than disrupting existing trends in the non-clinical health care field. Programs which experienced rapid historical growth, such as public health, seem poised to ride out the COVID-19 crisis, while fields already in declining interest among employers and students, such as health informatics, only declined more steeply during the pandemic.
As employer demand remained stable for many non-clinical health fields, enrollments are unlikely to skyrocket because of the pandemic. Continue to analyze your regional employment data and competitive market as you consider your next program launch to serve your economic recovery and invest university resources efficiently.
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 summer.
In the meantime, check 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.