As president of a university with a mission to provide a relevant and affordable education to adult learners, I have watched as American Public University System has added approximately 70+ degree programs over my nearly 18-year tenure. As a result, we have a wide variety of career-relevant offerings, with more than 90,000 alumni and 80,000 active students enrolled in more than 200 online degree and certificate programs.
Someone recently asked me what program I would advise today’s students to seriously consider for their major. I reflected on my undergraduate major (history), my MBA concentrations (accounting and marketing), and my doctoral program (higher education management). I thought about the presence and influence of technology in learning and the workplace, along with the importance of selecting an area of study that truly interests you. I seriously considered designing my own degree as an undergraduate at Duke University. In fact, during the 1970s, a number of colleges provided the option for a student to design their own learning path provided that it was approved by a committee of three faculty members. With these considerations in mind, I wanted to share the following recommendations, in no particular order.
Entrepreneurship – With the number of Gig Economy jobs increasing every day due to outsourcing and jobs being replaced by technology, my guess is that most of our current students entering college from high school will find themselves unemployed or self-employed at some point in their post-college life. Understanding how to make the most of being an entrepreneur may be helpful to many.
Understanding Artificial Intelligence (AI) – Most AI programs are offered as a part of computer science degree programs. If you have a proclivity toward computer programming, studying AI will be beneficial. Everyone else, whether planning to be in business, education, or another vocation, should understand the basics of AI and how it works. There may not currently be enough courses for a degree program, but I believe everyone needs to understand the basics of how computers can sift through vast amounts of data, detect patterns in the data that would be impossible for most humans, and predict outcomes based on those observations.
Blockchain – Whenever I think of Blockchain, I think of Bitcoin, whose creator derived the first such program. However, the concept has much broader applications. Some of the areas in which corporations and governments are experimenting with Blockchain beyond digital currency are real estate title documentation, supply chain management, insurance coverage, etc. Understanding the blockchain concept, how it works, and the requirements for maintaining its integrity will be important to future managers in both the private and public sector.
Knowledge Management (KM) – Twenty years ago, I might have called this library science. While KM would make someone a better librarian, I think in the big picture it is much broader and more important. In a world where written words captured digitally increase at a phenomenal rate each year, having an ability to understand how to search for and evaluate the most relevant information available across the globe will be very important to managers.
Data Analytics – As the Internet of Things (IoT) concept generates more and more devices with the ability to track actions, locations, and other activities, the volume of data available to the world increases exponentially every year with no signs of decreasing. Individuals with the ability to organize and analyze large datasets with the appropriate analytical tools will be invaluable to employers.
Psychologists – The rapid pace of change enabled by technology will create many stressful situations. Professionals capable of counseling others will also be invaluable to employers and local, state, and federal government.
Forensic accountants – Today’s smartphones are more powerful than many of the corporate computers of the early ’80s, and there are many other devices with software and hardware capabilities unknown to the average consumer or user. Having this much computing capability exist creates opportunities for sophisticated techies operating all over the world. More and more, the accountant of the future will have to have training in forensics in order to verify that the source of the transaction is legitimate and not a data point posited by someone whose intentions are fraudulent, not legitimate.
Outside the box thinkers/creators – I don’t pretend to know how to train or educate people on how to think more creatively. However, the odds are high that anyone with an ability to think outside the box will enable their company to compete better against another company that relies on computers with programs and algorithms developed by people who think in a logical manner. One of my lasting memories is from a testing session for a group of prospective kindergarten students at a private school in Baltimore. Each of the four five-year-olds was given a box of wooden blocks with the instruction, “How high can you get these blocks?” Three of the four started carefully stacking the blocks with the goal to build a stable tower as high as possible in five minutes. One of the children picked up a block, examined it for a few moments, and tossed it up in the air toward the ceiling several times until it hit the ceiling. My vote for the most creative went to that girl. In order to survive in a future world where technology will serve as the backbone for many of our services and practices, we will need more people with the ability to think outside the box and outwit the algorithm.
Environmental Science – With technology advances creating rapid changes in utilization of computers and other tech equipment as well as knowledge, we need to have more people who are able to observe, interpret, and report of the ever-changing environment around our cities, counties, states, and nation. There are more people today who choose to slam the work of our environmental scientists and meteorologists for no reason other than it serves their self-interests versus the world’s. We need more people who know how to conduct scientifically valid research and stand behind it in publications distributed globally.
Economics – Economics has been known as the science that relies less on evidence and more on theory. As the IoT environment expands and more and more people own devices that track all of their activities, there will be the opportunity for economists to locate and utilize data that will validate the activities of their membership. That data will increase the reliability and validity of a profession that has historically had more of a theoretical bent. Economics graduates will be viewed more as a direct hire by employers than as a candidate for graduate school in topics that are more professional and practical than the field of economics.
There are other areas that I think will be attractive to future college students and employers. While I chose not to rank any of the preceding areas, I also opted not to expand the list to more than 10. However, if I attended a university that provided me the option to create my own degree, I would likely opt for a combination of courses in entrepreneurship, artificial intelligence, blockchain, and data analytics that would enhance my understanding of these areas and make me a valuable employee to numerous companies, as well as enhance my ability to work in the gig economy.
Lists are meant to be challenging and debatable. I welcome your opinions.