15 Top Higher Education Programs - Q3 2016

January 17, 2017 Kathy Bryan

Based on Q3 2016 Conversion Volume

The 15 top higher education programs based on share of conversions (SOC) in Q3 2016 made up 57.5% of all higher education lead volume and 56.2% of all conversions, according to our Q3 2016 Higher Education Inquiry Generation Review.

#1 Business Administration and Management, General

Bringing in 10.5% of all higher education lead volume and 15.6% of the conversions, the Business Administration and Management, General program is holding onto its top higher education program spot. The Q3 2016 conversion rate for this business program was 12.2%. With maturing still to come, this conversion rate was already up 15.0% QOQ and 18.7% YOY.

The inquiry share of voice (SOV) for business administration and management programs is down 7.7% QOQ. The Business, Management, Marketing and Related Support program category has been losing inquiry SOV for some time. Last quarter (Q2 2016) saw QOQ inquiry growth, and we were watching to see if it would be the start of a business program rebound. But Q3 results proved this is not the case. The inquiry SOV for the business category was down 7.5% QOQ and a whopping 93.0% YOY. Meanwhile, the Q3 2016 conversion rate for the business category was 10.1% ― already strong with maturing to come. The share of conversions was up (2.4% higher QOQ) as a result of this healthy conversion rate, and in Q3 2016, more than one-quarter of all conversions were for business programs.

We partially attribute the unexpected situation of shrinking inquiry volume and growing conversion rates to employability. Graduates of lower-level business programs typically have limited job options in comparison to graduates of higher-level or niche business programs. Schools have streamlined their offerings based on this trend, and the remaining business programs are converting quite well.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted 8% growth in “business and financial operations occupations” from 2014 to 2024. This rate is on par with all professions, but the 2015 media pay of $86,110 is significantly above the average for all occupations.

#2 Nursing/Registered Nurse (RN, ASN, BSN, MSN)

Nursing/Registered Nurse programs accounted for 13.5% of all higher education inquiries in Q3 2016 but only for 9.8% of all conversions. The 6.0% conversion rate for nursing programs in Q3 2016 is down 19.5% QOQ and 39.0% YOY. Although further maturation of the Q3 2016 cohort of inquiries will boost performance, it is unlikely that the conversion rate will match that of the prior quarter.

The BLS projected 19% growth within the health care profession from 2014 to 2024, which is much faster than the  average expected for all occupations. The increase is projected to add roughly 2.3 million health care jobs to the economy. However, the BLS projections were based in part on the federal health insurance reform increasing the number of individuals with access to health insurance and may be impacted by changes to the Affordable Care Act under the Trump administration.

For registered nurses, the BLS projected slightly lower growth of 16%. In addition to greater health care access, this increase is expected due to an aging population, growing rates of chronic conditions and an increased emphasis on preventive care. The median annual wage for registered nurses was $67,490 in 2015.

#3 Medical Insurance Coding Specialist/Coder

Although the Medical Insurance Coding Specialist/Coder is ranked just one spot below the Nursing/Registered Nurse program based on volume of higher education conversions, its share of volume in Q3 2016 was significantly below that of the second-place program. Medical coding programs brought in 5.1% of all higher education inquiries in Q3 2016 and 5.0% of all higher education conversions. The 8.2% conversion rate for Q3 2016 was up 0.5% QOQ and 8.6% YOY.

As a result of the growing use of health services in the U.S., the BLS projected a 15% increase in “medical records and health information technicians” from 2014 to 2024. The median annual wage for people in this profession is just $37,110, but typically only a certificate or associate degree is needed to qualify for employment.

#4 Medical Office Assistant/Specialist and #5 Medical/Clinical Assistant

With 3.4% of all higher education inquiries and a 3.7% share of conversions, Medical Office Assistant/Specialist programs are in a period of growth. The conversion rate is also climbing. In Q3 2016, the conversion rate was 9.0% and matched the Q2 2016 conversion rate, but it should mature to a higher point. The Q3 2016 conversion rate was 4.6% higher than the Q3 2015 conversion rate.

Medical/Clinical Assistant programs brought in 4.8% of inquiries but only 3.5% of conversions during Q3 2016. These programs had a conversion rate of just 6.1% in Q3 2016 ― down 5.8% QOQ and down 18.4% YOY.

A 23% growth in employment of medical assistants was projected by the BLS as the health care category grows as a whole. Also, physicians are expected to hire additional medical assistants to help with routine administrative and clinical support needs.

The relatively meager median wage of $30,590 (as of 2015) for medical assistants is reflective of the minimal education required for this profession. Most medical assistants have attained certificates as their highest level of education.

#6 Health/Health Care Administration/Management

Health/Health Care Administration/Management programs accounted for 3.2% of all higher education inquiries and 2.8% of all higher education conversions in Q3 2016. The 7.2% conversion rate in Q3 2016 for health care administration programs was up 6.6% QOQ and 4.3% YOY.

Employment of “medical and health services managers” is projected to grow 17% from 2014 to 2024. Many of these positions require a master’s degree, and the $94,500 median annual salary reflects this education requirement.

#7 Criminal Justice/Police Science

The inquiry SOV for Criminal Justice/Police Science programs was 2.4%, and the share of conversions was 2.8% in Q3 2016. The 9.7% conversion rate in Q3 2016 for criminal justice and police science programs was higher than expected ― up 9.0% QOQ and 5.9% YOY.

The BLS projected only 4% growth for “police and detectives” between 2014 and 2024. This expansion is a slower rate than across all occupations, though demand varies by location. The median annual wage for this field is $60,270.

#8 Psychology, General

Psychology programs accounted for 2.8% of all higher education inquiries and the same percentage of conversions in Q3 2016. The 8.1% conversion rate for psychology programs in Q3 2016 was up 13.6% QOQ and 8.4% YOY.

The employment of psychologists was projected to grow 19% from 2014 to 2024. Candidates with doctoral degrees in applied specialties will have the best job prospects for these high paying positions. (The median annual wage for psychologists was $72,580 in 2015.)

#9 Computer Systems Analysis/Analyst

Computer Systems Analysis/Analyst programs held a 1.5% inquiry SOV and a higher 2.1% SOC in Q3 2016. The conversion rate in Q3 2016 for computer systems programs was robust at 11.5% ― 11.2% higher than Q2 2016 but down 1.8% YOY. (Though with additional maturing, the Q3 2016 conversion rate will likely pass the Q3 2015 conversion rate.)

“Computer and information technology occupations” were projected to grow 12% from 2014 to 2024, according to the BLS. The increase in jobs is due to a greater emphasis on cloud computing, big data, the internet of things, mobile computing and more. Due to the complexity of this field, it has a high median annual wage of $81,430.

#10 Pharmacy Technician/Assistant

Pharmacy Technician/Assistant programs brought in 1.8% of all higher education inquiries and 2.0% of all higher education conversions in Q3 2016. The 9.3% conversion rate in Q3 2016 for pharmacy tech programs was higher than the 8.9% conversion rate of Q2 2016 and the 8.2% conversion rate of Q3 2015.

The employment outlook for pharmacy technicians is slightly stronger than the average for all occupations, but with a 9% projected growth rate (from 2014 to 2024), it is weak compared to other health care fields. The median annual wage for pharmacy technicians was $30,410 in 2015.

#11 Educational Leadership and Administration, General

The share of inquiries for educational leadership and administration programs was 1.3% in Q3 2016. A high conversion rate (10.0%) delivered a greater proportion of conversions (1.6%).

Based on estimated school enrollments and budgets, “education, training and library occupations” are projected to grow at an average rate according to the BLS. The same applies for “elementary, middle and high school principals.” This profession group had a high median annual wage of $90,410 in 2015.

The “postsecondary education administrators” occupation is projected to grow at the faster rate of 9%. The median income is similar to that noted above at $88,580.

#12 Liberal Arts and Sciences/Liberal Studies

Liberal Arts and Sciences/Liberal Studies programs brought in 1.5% of all higher education inquiries and 1.6% of the conversions in Q3 2016. The 8.4% conversion rate for liberal arts programs in Q3 2016 was quite weak compared to the 12.4% conversion rate of the year prior.

Because liberal arts degrees can help graduates land in a variety of occupations, we are not outlining employment or wage details for these programs.

#13 Web Page, Digital/Multimedia and Information Resources

The inquiry SOV for Web Page, Digital/Multimedia and Information Resources was 2.4% in Q3 2016. A disappointing conversion rate of 5.4% resulted in only a 1.6% share of conversions. The conversion rate was down 11.6% QOQ and 15.3% YOY.

This program can lead to a variety of positions, and the employment prospects range dramatically. There was little to no change projected in the employment rate of graphic designers, but 27% growth was estimated by the BLS for web developers from 2014 to 2024. Graphic designers had a median wage of $46,900 in 2015. Meanwhile, the median salary for web developers was a much higher $64,970.

#14 Truck and Bus Driver/Commercial Vehicle Operator and Instructor

Truck and Bus Driver/Commercial Vehicle Operator and Instructor programs accounted for 0.7% of all higher education inquiries generated in Q3 2016 and 1.5% of all conversions. The 19.1% conversion rate achieved for trucking programs in Q3 2016 was the highest conversion rate for all of the top 15 programs. The conversion rate was down 1.0% QOQ and 7.4% YOY.

The job outlook, according to the BLS, for “heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers” contrasts with the conversion rate. They projected 5% growth from 2014 to 2024. The average median pay for truck drivers was $40,260 in 2015.

#15 Accounting

Accounting programs also performed well in Q3 2016, bringing in 0.7% of all higher education inquiries and 1.5% of the conversions thanks to a 16.7% conversion rate. This conversion rate for accounting programs was 15.5% higher than Q2 2016 and 17.1% higher than Q3 2015.

The accounting profession is projected to grow at a rate of 11% from 2014 to 2024. The median annual wage for accountants was $67,190 in 2015.

The Sparkroom Q3 2016 Higher Education Inquiry Generation Review covers overall trends in the inquiry and student acquisition activities of higher education institutions for the period of January-September 2016. The following topics are featured:

  • Inquiry volume
  • Conversion rates
  • Channel distribution
  • Inquiry costs
  • Top higher education programs and program categories
  • Degree-level distribution

Click here to get your free copy of the Sparkroom Q3 2016 Higher Education Inquiry Generation Review.

About the Author

Kathy Bryan

Kathy Bryan is the Senior Vice President of Corporate Marketing and Communications at Digital Media Solutions (DMS), an industry leader in providing end-to-end customer acquisition solutions that help clients grow their businesses and realize their marketing goals. In this role, Kathy is responsible for all aspects of marketing and communications for DMS and its subsidiary brands. Since its inception, DMS has evolved into a full-service performance marketing company that services firms within highly complex and competitive industries including mortgage, education, insurance, consumer brands, automotive, jobs and careers. DMS has achieved incredible year-over-year growth, which has earned recognition on the Inc. 5000 list in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.

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