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Thursday, January 21, 2010

New Master's Degrees Change as the World Changes

A recent set of articles in New York Times Sunday edition (Jan 3, 2010) highlighted how master's degrees are bellwethers of new directions. Because master's degrees generally do not require a large number of hours, many colleges and universities have used the flexibility of interdisciplinary master's degrees to tailor student studies to individual goals, interests, and career opportunities. The obvious critique is such degrees can be trendy, and perhaps, arguably rather useless if there are massive paradigm shifts. But, the same can be said for traditional master's degrees. One can safely say that the bloom is off the rose of the stolid, traditional MBA, and to be at all competitive one must be sure to enter an MBA program that at least has a modicum of "sustainability studies" emphasis.

The article provided food for thought, and prompted a contemplation of some of the emerging trends and degrees. In doing so, one can gain an appreciation of the skills that are valued, and emerging industries that will potentially hire "niche" workers.

Homeland Security: After 9/11, many colleges and universities scrambled to assemble master's degree programs in Homeland Security as a continuation of Criminal Justice programs. Frankly, it appeared that there might be an oversupply just a year or so ago, as Iraq changed direction and budget issues resulted in layoffs at police departments, government agencies, and private security providers. Now, thanks to publicized security concerns, there is a renewed interest in the programs. There are a few new twists: language studies, cross-cultural studies, and emergency management have been added into most curricula.

CyberSecurity: This is a very specialized field that requires individuals to evaluate and remedy vulnerabilities within systems. Students become operational in computer networks, programming, and systems. This is an important program, but one can't help but suspect that some programs could be overly general, and deal with issues on a systems level, and never provide the hard-core math, computer science, and skills-training to make the graduate truly valuable. The extreme value to a company, the government, or military is the individual's ability to do things "hands-on" as well as to understand certain things about human behavior, marketing developments, and social networking in order to respond to emerging technologies.

Educational Leadership: This has been an extremely popular program for teachers who must have master's degrees for permanent certification, or who wish to move forward in their careers and become administrators of private schools, charter schools, or even community college programs. The best programs emphasize organizational development, and require students to have a project-based approach where they develop plans for schools or educational institutions. It's also important to include public policy training, educational technology for transformation, curriculum development, and teacher training programs. Informational technology may also be a focal point. Avoid programs that do not incorporate case studies and which do not require students to build a plan to rebuild a school.

Individualized MBAs: The MBA that can be somewhat customized to the individual's interests and goals is more important than ever. For example, an MBA program may allow an individual to focus on health care administration and to even take courses in specific areas, such as urgent care entrepreneurship. It can also be more theoretical in nature, and look at the interplay of sustainability and public policy as they relate to enterprises.

Sustainable Communities: There are any number of variations on the sustainability theme, all of which hold enormous promise in a world that must look at sustainability as a reality in a world that sees itself as increasingly interconnected, and where energy and environmental concerns are squarely at the center. An international scope is often a key characteristic. A good program will go to lengths to let the students develop a deep understanding of the concept of sustainability, and will provide significant grounding in "green" practices in various industries, including construction, transportation, healthcare, and manufacturing. In addition, programs look at individuals, communities, and the world -- each from a different set of criteria that discuss how to develop an enterprise, a community, and a household with an eye to long-term viability. Avoiding boom-bust mindsets is a part of the emphasis. Encouraging creativity and new solutions is equally important.

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