According to the 2016 Year-End Higher Education Inquiry Generation Review, today’s higher education student is more interested in a career in business or health than any other field. In fact, six of the top ten programs were healthcare related. Other top program categories of student interest included business, education, computer/IS and mechanic/repair technologies. Sparkroom’s 2016 report covers overall trends in the inquiry generation and student acquisition activities of higher education institutions for the period of January-December 2016. This blog post provides a detailed look at the top ten programs of 2016, based on share of student inquiries.
1. Business Administration and Management
The share of inquiry volume for this top program dropped 19.7% year over year, finishing with just over one-tenth of all prospective student requests. After being fairly stable from Q1 2015 to Q1 2016, the conversion rate for business administration programs jumped to 7.6% in Q2 2016 and then to 11.1% in Q3 2016. As of the report publish date, the conversion rate for Q4 2016 was 9.9% with additional maturation to come. Overall for the year, business administration programs had a 9.2% conversion rate, which was up 28.9% over 2015.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted 6% growth in management occupations from 2014 to 2024. This is about the same as all occupations across the U.S. The median wage is the real appeal of business administration careers. In May of 2016, the median annual wage for management occupations was six figures ($100,790).
2. Nursing/Registered Nurse
According to the BLS, more than one-fifth of all healthcare workers in 2014 were registered nurses. The nursing occupation is expected to grow 16% from 2014 to 2024, and the median wage is above average at $68,450 as of May, 2016.
Serving a critical role in the healthcare world, nurses prepare and coordinate patient care in a variety of environments including healthcare sites, correctional facilities, academic institutions and the military. In these environments, they provide patient care including education, advice and emotional support. To become a nurse, a minimum of a diploma from an approved nursing program is required. Higher levels of education, such as an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing, leads to more authority in the field and higher compensation.
One-tenth of all inquiries generated in 2016 were for nursing programs. This share of inquiries was up 8.5% from 2015, but the conversion rate slipped dramatically and steadily during that time. At the start of 2015, nursing programs converted at a rate of 11.2%. But the average conversion rate for 2016 was only 7.0%.
With increasing interest from prospective students across different backgrounds, low conversion rates are likely due to intense competition in this field.
3. Medical/Clinical Assistant
Clinical assistants provide support services in physicians’ offices and other health centers. Often times duties include preparing patients for examination. As health practices expand, typically more assistants are hired to facilitate routine clinical duties. This allows the physicians to see more patients.
Unlike nursing programs, the lower-level medical assisting programs experienced growth last year in both the inquiry share and conversion rate. The 6.0% share of inquiries was up 3.5% from 2015, and the conversion rate was up 1.4% year over year. But while the conversion rate improved, it averaged a dismal 3.9% for the year. Employment of medical assistants is expected to increase 23% from 2014 to 2024, but the median wage for this field (as of May, 2016) was only $31,540. It’s easy to imagine people inquiring but then choosing another path after further research.
4. Medical Insurance Coding Specialist/Coder
Health information technicians keep track of health information data. Using a variety of classifications for coding and categorizing, the technicians ensure accuracy and accessibility of patient medical and treatment history. Medical insurance coders, a type of health information technician, prepare billing invoices for services rendered, working with insurance companies to ensure accurate filing. In general, a high school diploma is all that is required for health information technician positions. But specialized certificates, like medical insurance coding, can be advantageous and reduce the need for on-the-job training.
In 2016, the medical insurance coding program saw tremendous growth in the share of inquiries. The 4.7% share was up 49.8% over 2015. The conversion rate was 7.2% in 2016, up 28.6% year over year.
The BLS predicted 15% growth for health information technicians from 2014 to 2024. However, the median wage is relatively low at just $38,040 as of May 2016.
5. Medical Office Assistant/Specialist
Medical office assistants provide clerical support to health facilities. Tasks include appointment coordination and maintaining medical records.
The 2016 share of inquiries for medical office assistant programs was up 24.1% year over year to 3.0%. The average conversion rate was stable but high at 8.0%.
Like other lower-level healthcare roles, typically only a high school diploma is required to obtain a medical office assistant position. However, specialized training can be an advantage when seeking employment.
6. Health/Healthcare Administration/Management
Healthcare administrators – also called medical service managers, health service managers or healthcare executives – facilitate strategic roles within health facilities. In general, they are responsible for managing facilities to plan and coordinate services. The role of healthcare administrators also includes compliance, so they must stay abreast of changes in healthcare laws and regulations.
In 2016, the share of healthcare administration inquiries dropped slightly to 3.8%. Meanwhile, the conversion rate rose to 6.4% for the year.
These are high level positions that typically require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree but master’s degrees are also very common. Not surprisingly, healthcare administrators are well paid. In May 2017, the median annual wage was $96,540.
7. Psychology, General
Psychology careers vary widely with independent psychologists, group practices and everything in between. In general, psychologists study human behaviors and situational responses.
Typically, a doctoral degree is needed to enter the psychology occupation, but master’s degrees can suffice in some settings. Those with independent practices need to obtain licenses in order to see patients.
In 2016, 2.5% of all student inquiries were for psychology programs. This matched the 2015 share. The conversion rate for psychology programs was 7.1% in 2016, which was down just slightly from the year prior.
The BLS estimated 19% growth in psychology professions from 2014 to 2024. But the annual median wage for psychology was only $75,230 in May, 2016. Though significantly above the average for all occupations, this is low considering the education requirements for the field.
8. Heating, Air Conditioning, Ventilation and Refrigeration (HVACR) Management
HVACR mechanics and installers work in diverse facilities from homes to factories, installing and fixing HVACR systems. Hours can be erratic and work areas can be cramped and uncomfortable as they repair what moderates the temperature in a given space.
HVACR professionals have no specific education requirements, but postsecondary education or apprenticeships are desirable. Troubleshooting skills and familiarity with electronics are also an advantage, as HVACR systems have become increasingly complex over the years.
Slightly more than 2% of all student inquiries in 2016 were for HVACR programs. This was up slightly from 2015. Meanwhile, the conversion rate for HVACR programs slipped just a bit, down to 4.7% in 2016.
The BLS projected growth of 14% for HVACR careers from 2014 to 2024. In May of 2016, the median average wage for HVACR professionals was $45,910.
9. Criminal Justice/Police Science
Though quite rewarding, work for criminal justice/police science graduates can be demanding, stressful and even dangerous. In their efforts to protect lives and property and solve crimes, police officers and detectives work in shifts around the clock. The profession has a high rate of injury and illness.
A minimum of a high school diploma is required to enter the criminal justice field. Depending on the role and the locality, additional requirements can include U.S. citizenship, age of 21 or greater and a college degree. Graduation from a specific agency’s training academy and testing for physical and personal qualifications may also be involved.
In 2016, approximately 2% of all student inquiries were for criminal justice programs. The conversion rate for these inquiries was 7.6%. Both the share of inquiries and the conversion rate were essentially flat year over year.
Growth for the criminal justice profession is projected to be only 4% from 2014 to 2024, according to the BLS, with demand varying by region and locality. The median annual wage for police and detectives was $61,600 in May, 2016.
10. Web Page, Digital/Multimedia and Information Resources Design
Web developers must have strong knowledge of design and programming, because they are responsible for the look and functionality of web properties. Associate degrees are typically the minimum requirement to enter this field, however with one in seven web developers self-employed as of 2017, there are clearly other ways to get started in this occupation.
Web developer occupations were projected to grow by 27% from 2014 to 2024, according to the BLS. This is driven by the popularity of ecommerce and increased mobile device usage. The median annual wage for web developers was $66,130 in May, 2016.
Not surprisingly, the share of student inquiries coming in for web design programs is on the rise. The 2.0% share for 2016 was up 44.6% from 2015. The conversion rate for these programs rose 10.8% during the same time.
Gainful Employment Regulations Could Impact the Top Program List in Years to Come
Many higher education professionals are anticipating revisions to higher education regulations as part of the Trump administration actions. Despite this shift, we believe gainful employment will be a major factor in the marketing and demand of programs during 2017. The first list of programs that did not achieve gainful employment standards was published in January. Although this list served only as a warning to schools, it was a public notice that can easily be reviewed by prospective students.
Schools are already shifting program rosters based on the list published in January, and we expect the movement to continue. As part of these changes, many schools are transitioning their emphases away from associate programs and adding shorter, non-degree, less-expensive programs that better match gainful employment standards.
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