For many, back-to-school season is the signal for the start of a new year – a time for freshly sharpened pencils, blank notebooks and clean slates.
The urge for a fresh start and the lure of entrepreneurship are driving many, who find themselves out of work as the new school year approaches, back into the classroom to enhance or develop the skills necessary to strike out on their own.
Risky economic conditions and the soaring cost of higher education, however, demand that prospective students approach continuing education like an investment and carefully consider future business trends when selecting their course of study.
“We see two sets of people with a renewed interest in grad school: The unemployed and the underemployed,” said Anittah Patrick of Gradschools.com. In the past two years the site has seen a general uptick in traffic from those interested in going back to school, Patrick said.
Education, urban planning and pharmacology are among the most researched programs on the web site. Changing demographics and cultural shifts are opening up other opportunities for those looking to get back to school and start anew.
Booming boomer business
Over the next 20 years, about 26 percent of the U.S. population will achieve senior status and require a host of services to accommodate their aging need. Needs for home care, assisted living and retirement communities, investing advice, and trust and estate planning will generate a wave of business opportunities.
Aging Services Management
Implemented last year, the Masters of Aging Services Management degree through the University of Southern California Davis School of Gerontology prepares students to address the many issues that surround aging, according to Whitney Fountas, an admission counselor at the school. The program introduces students to geron-technology (programs like Med-Alert and brain fitness programs like Brain Age for Nintendo DS) as well as marketing strategies and policy and legal issues for aging services.
The USC program currently has 100 students enrolled. Similar programs are increasingly available online and at campuses nationwide.
As the first wave of Boomers begins to retire, investors are turning to independent financial advisors to help secure their fiscal futures. The industry research firm IBIS World projects the certified financial planning industry will experience more than 9 percent growth in revenue in the next two years and and will continue to grow through 2015.
There are numerous paths to becoming a CFP, including more than 133 graduate programs worldwide. Regardless of which program attended, candidates must pass the CFP Certification Examination to set up shop. Many advisors also opt to complete their Series 7 exam to allow them to sell securities to clients as well.
Turning green into ‘green’
As businesses feel the push to “go green” and reduce their carbon footprints, the demand for Environmental Consulting will continue to increase, according to IBIS. The industry in expected to see 120 percent growth in revenue over the next decade with an influx of sole ownerships. IBIS also projects a nearly 11 percent growth in revenue in remediation and environmental cleanup services in the United States through 2012. A degree in environmental engineering will prepare entrepreneurs to meet this need.
The expansion of public sector investment into conservation and land development programs, coupled with environmental concerns means urban planners will be increasingly in demand. IBIS reports that government agencies are expected to allocate an increasing share of their budgets to addressing issues such as land reclamation, coastal area and farmland preservation. The downside, however, is a dearth of programs to meet the demands of those interested in this specialty.
“Academia has been slow to respond to the market,” Patrick said. As an alternative, prospective students should also consider landscape architecture as well as urban affairs and planning graduate programs that are similar in nature and also earmarked for expansion in the next five years.
Increasingly, business schools are offering more specialized degrees to increase admissions. Technology and leadership MBA’s are drawing the most interest, according to Patrick.
Management of Technology
Providing more insight into the corporate big picture – such as marketing and finance – than a degree in computer science, the MOT prepares students to manage and leverage technology in business and industry. Programs also encourage innovation and bringing high technology to the marketplace and degrees can be completed both in the classroom and online.
While “green” anything seems to add a certain cache nowadays, Yuliya Strizhakova, an assistant professor of marketing at the Rutgers School of Business in Camden, N.J., cautions prospective students to carefully study course listings.
“If I were to go back to school today, I would look for a program offering courses in sustainability and social responsibility,” she said. “But the key focus would still be on the business education.”