How to Position Your Academic Programs Amid Mixed Economic Signals

by | Mar 21, 2023 | All Topics, Eduventures Summit Preview 23, Traditional Student Demand

How to Position Your Academic Programs Amid Mixed Economic Signals

Mixed economic signals can be challenging to navigate. Despite headlines trumpeting layoffs and, most recently, bank failures, most indicators still point to a hot labor market.

Jobless claims have stayed below 200,000 for seven straight weeks (as of March 9). For every unemployed person in January, there were 1.9 job openings, signaling a labor shortage in the U.S. for the first time in decades.

Eduventures has predicted no recession in 2023. With that in mind—alongside falling enrollment rates—we do not expect to see a significant uptick in student demand, particularly among adults. This means that many schools will have to work hard to meet enrollment goals. Given the economic noise out there right now, which jobs are projected to grow and how can you best position your academic programs?

Focus on Career Outcomes

One of the surest ways to better appeal to prospects is by providing pathways to high-impact occupations – jobs with fast growth, significant scale, and good pay. Why? Because both traditional and adult prospects are highly driven by career-oriented motivations.

In 2022, traditional-aged prospects reported that the top three expectations for college were career-aligned: “Get a good job after graduation” (57%), “Get a solid foundation for an entire career” (50%), and “Gain practical career skills” (43%). These responses were mostly consistent through the pandemic period.

Adult prospects, long driven by career-oriented expectations, only moved further in that direction over the pandemic period. In fact, the number of adults citing “enrollment motivations NOT related to career aspirations” saw the most dramatic shift. In 2019, pre-pandemic, about 15% of adult prospects selected this response. This percentage shrunk to 11% in 2020, and then to 10% in 2022, representing a 30% drop.

The Forecast for High-Impact Occupations

When looking to the future, Eduventures focuses on three key data points to bring high-impact occupations into focus: growth, scale, and wages. To identify high-impact occupations, Eduventures used the following filters among those where the typical entry-level education is a bachelor’s degree or above:

  • Growth: Occupations projected to grow faster than average between 2022-2032 (above 9%)
  • Wages: Occupations with hourly earnings above the median for workers with at least a bachelor’s degree ($33.35 hourly)
  • Scale: Occupations projected to see the highest number of job gains (sorted from highest to lowest)

Figure 1 shows the top 10 occupations in each credential bucket.

Occupation 2022-2032 New Jobs 2022-2032 Job Growth Median Hourly Earnings 
Bachelor’s Occupations 
Software Developers 374,924 25% $58.05 
General and Operations Managers 351,953 11% $47.10 
Registered Nurses 305,979 10% $37.31 
Medical and Health Services Managers 132,260 28% $48.72 
Financial Managers 120,526 16% $63.32 
Management Analysts 113,479 14% $44.71 
Project Management Specialists 81,540 10% $45.43 
Computer and Information Systems Managers 60,846 12% $76.45 
Logisticians 54,634 24% $37.03 
Software Quality Assurance Analysts and Testers 52,168 25% $47.22 
Master’s Occupations 
Nurse Practitioners 108,509 42% $58.02 
Speech-Language Pathologists 41,843 27% $38.01 
Physician Assistants 38,555 27% $58.43 
Occupational Therapists 22,713 17% $41.14 
Education Administrators, Postsecondary 20,664 10% $46.59 
Statisticians 10,737 30% $45.95 
Computer and Information Research Scientists 7,620 21% $63.22 
Nurse Anesthetists 6,216 13% $94.04 
Epidemiologists 2,631 26% $37.90 
Economists 2,320 13% $50.79 
Doctoral Occupations 
Lawyers 80,593 11% $61.54 
Physical Therapists 45,899 19% $45.97 
Medical Scientists, Except Epidemiologists 21,200 17% $45.82 
Dentists, General 12,517 11% $77.10 
Veterinarians 11,844 14% $48.26 
Clinical and Counseling Psychologists 8,149 13% $39.67 
Chiropractors 6,014 16% $36.06 
School Psychologists 5,690 10% $37.88 
Optometrists 4,232 10% $59.76 
Psychiatrists 3,971 14% $100.00 

Figure 1. 2022-2032 High-Impact Occupations

Five broad occupational clusters claim multiple high-impact occupations: Health Practitioner Occupations; Management Occupations; Life, Physical, and Social Science Occupations; Computer and Mathematical Occupations; and Business and Financial Operations Occupations.

The list is dominated by health practitioner jobs, with this cluster claiming 12 of the 30 high-impact occupations in Figure 2. This isn’t too surprising given both advanced degree significance in the field (11 of the 12 jobs are master’s degree occupations and above) and U.S. demographic trends. Over the next decade, while the total U.S. population is projected to grow by 4%, the 65-and-over population is projected to grow by 25% placing greater demand on our healthcare system and fueling concerns over the developing nursing shortage. In fact, three of the four bachelor’s and above nursing occupations make it through our high-impact filtering.

Apart from health, STEM-aligned occupations are also prevalent. Nine of the 30 high-impact occupations fall in the Life, Physical, and Social Science and Computer and Mathematical Occupations with jobs like epidemiologists and counseling psychologists representing the former and software developers and statisticians representing the latter. Broadening STEM to include health, known as STEM-H, reveals that 21 of the 30 high-impact occupations in Figure 2 are aligned to these fields.

The Bottom Line

With prospects clearly thinking about career pathways, schools must consistently evaluate the labor market to ensure they are positioned to meet these expectations. A red-hot labor market will discourage many from returning to school, forcing schools to make an even stronger case for why they should be considered. Clearly aligning academic pathways to the next decade’s high-impact occupations is one strategy.

The jobs featured here represent just a sliver of all high-impact occupations. Want to see more? Contact your Client Research Analyst.


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Clint Raine

Eduventures Senior Analyst at Encoura

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