Georgia students seek degrees in growing industries

As the shifting business landscape changes the demand for trained workers in many industries in Georgia, students at colleges and universities across the state are gravitating toward degree programs that will equip them to fill the jobs of the future.

The largest number of degrees earned by students of schools within the University System of Georgia (USG) in 2020 were business, management or marketing programs, totaling more than 12,500.

With nearly 7,500 degrees conferred in 2020, health professions and related programs were the second most-popular, with nearly half of those students becoming Registered Nurses. 

The 10 most popular degree programs include:

  1. Business, Management, Marketing
  2. Health Professions and Related
  3. Education
  4. Liberal Arts and Sciences
  5. Computer and Information Sciences
  6. Engineering 
  7. Biological and Biomedical Sciences
  8. Psychology
  9. Social Sciences
  10. Communication, Journalism

At Georgia State University, graduate-level programs within the Robinson College of Business continue to grow, said Dean Richard Phillips.

“We saw tremendous growth in our MBA program year-over-year,” he said. “We were up 170% over last year.” 

One of the fastest-growing graduate programs within the business school over the last few years is the master of science in data science and analytics. 

“There has been a huge demand for these students that are graduating in the marketplace,” Phillips said. “We more than doubled the number of students in that program as well.” 

He has also noted significant growth in the accounting program, some of which he attributes to the current economic climate.

“Never count out accounting in a recession,” he said. “It seems to always do well during a recession.”

Year-over-year changes in the number of degrees conferred gives some insight into the academic programs experiencing the most rapid growth and the industries with the greatest demand for new talent. 

The 10 degree programs that saw the fastest growth from 2019 to 2020 include: 

  1. Agriculture, Agriculture Operations, and Related Sciences (30% increase)
  2. Multi/Interdisciplinary Studies (26% increase)
  3. Computer Information Sciences and Support Services (17% increase) 
  4. Biological and Biomedical Sciences (9% increase)
  5. Parks, Recreation, Leisure and Fitness Studies (9% increase)
  6. Engineering (9% increase)
  7. Security and Protective Services (7% increase)
  8. Legal Professions and Studies (6% increase)
  9. Business, Management, Marketing and Related Support Services (6% increase)
  10. Education (5% increase)

In computer science programs, 836 more degrees were awarded in 2020 than the year before, and 623 of those degrees were awarded by The Georgia Institute of Technology, according to the USG. A vast majority of the increase came at the graduate level, after a concerted effort by the university to expand its Online Masters of Science in Computer Science (OMSCS). 

“We started that program seven years ago now, and this semester we have more than 11,000 students in that program,” said Charles Isbell, dean of the Georgia Tech College of Computing. 

The dramatic growth of the online degree program means that at the largest engineering school in the country there are now more students in the OMSCS program than all of the graduate students in the college of engineering combined.  

These students are different from the people who traditionally pursue graduate degrees at Georgia Tech, Isbell said. 

The OMSCS students are older, mostly in their thirties, and working full-time in fields that are often unrelated to computer science. More than 70% of the students are U.S. citizens, compared to the 85% of computer science students on campus who are foreign nationals. 

“This is an untapped market of people,” Isbell said. “They are trying to retrain. They are trying to get new skills so that they can be marketable in the world today. So they look very, very different and they represent a broad swath of all the people across the country from a variety of backgrounds.”

In the spring of 2019, for the first time in Georgia Tech’s history, the largest number of undergraduates receiving degrees was not mechanical engineers. It was computer science majors.

“If you look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the only job category that the BLS tracks where there are more jobs than there are degrees awarded each year is computer science,” Isbell said. 

He noted that the demand for these graduates is increasing more quickly in Georgia and Atlanta specifically, as the city continues to grow as a technology hub. 

While computer science programs conferred the largest number of additional degrees in 2020, agriculture degrees grew most rapidly compared to the previous year, increasing by 30% over 2019. 

Doug Bailey, assistant dean for academic affairs at the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, says the industry is seeing a generational turnover as older workers reach retirement age. 

The average confirmed employment rate has been about 94% for students graduating from agriculture programs at UGA, according to Bailey. 

“These increases aren’t just because people are interested, which is part of it, but it’s also because there are some good jobs out there,” he said. “We have usually two solid job offers for every one of our graduates when they’re completing their degrees.” 

More than 50% of students take a job outside of agricultural production when they graduate, Bailey said. 

The programs that fall within the category of agriculture degrees include majors related to environmental conservation and biological science programs that many undergraduates take to prepare for veterinary or medical school. 

In fact, 34% of students within the agricultural college go on to graduate degree programs, compared to 19% of all students at UGA, Bailey said. 

The increase in the number of degrees in the field of Multi/Interdisciplinary Studies, which is emerging both within Georgia and nationally, reflects the efforts of institutions to adapt degree programs in order to give students a diverse skill set that can be applied to rapidly changing 21st century careers.

The USG awarded a record 70,879 total degrees in the 2020 school year, a 4.5% increase from the previous year and the most in the system’s 89-year history. 

The increase in the number of degrees conferred across the state this year is the largest year-over-year jump since 2011, when the USG joined Complete College America in an effort to improve educational attainment in the state. 

Since 2011, the number of degrees conferred by the USG annually has increased by more than 29%. During that time period, enrollment has grown by less than 5%, showing that more students are completing their programs and receiving degrees. 

Sixty-one percent of students in Georgia complete their degrees within six years of enrolling.

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