Several schools within the University System of Maryland are looking to expand their degree options by offering health- and technology-based programs.
The USM board of regents voted June 17 to allow five of its institutions to adopt new degree programs, with the majority of the programs being related to the tech and health industries.
The 12 new programs were introduced to the regents by Coppin State University, Towson University, Salisbury University, Frostburg State University and Bowie State University. Each university introduced its own programs.
Towson and Salisbury proposed new bachelor’s degrees in health science.
At Towson, the new program, known as the Bachelor of Science in Fitness and Wellness Leadership, is an extension of the kinesiology department.
Jaime DeLuca, kinesiology department chair, said the program has been in development the past few years and combines some aspects of the current programming, including exercise science and sports management. She said the program stemmed from the students in the department feeling as though they couldn’t fit into exercise science or sports management.
“We started to realize that there was some crossover between those two programs that encompassed a lot of student interest,” DeLuca said.
DeLuca said the program focuses on teaching students how to coach a sport and lead a team. She said it will be available beginning in the fall 2022 semester and that more specific classes will be offered in the spring.
Similarly, Frostburg State is expanding its nursing program by introducing a Bachelor of Science in nursing and a path for licensed practical nurses to obtain their Bachelor of Science in nursing.
According to Frostburg State President Ronald Nowaczyk, the school currently has a program for registered nurses to obtain a Bachelor of Science in nursing, but doesn’t have a four-year program. He said the new programs will allow Frostburg State to provide students with the same four-year experience they’d be able to get at other universities.
“Right now, residents in Western Maryland, if you want a four-year nursing experience, the closest state school is Towson,” Nowaczyk said. “But we want to now provide the opportunity for people to get that same four-year experience and earn a Bachelor of Science in nursing here.”
The increase in health-related programs comes as the world is into its third year of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, according to Daraius Irani, chief economist for the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson, the demand for nurses predates the pandemic, which only exacerbated the shortage.
Further, Irani said, while there may be a demand from students for health-based programs, it takes time for a university to have the infrastructure to accommodate.
“One of the things that you face with a college is the capacity to teach these kinds of majors, he said. “So we have to get faculty. We have to get facilities that are able to accommodate it.”
Another trend within the proposed degree programs is an emphasis on the tech industry. Bowie State proposed three new bachelor’s and two new master’s programs related to the industry.
Carl Goodman, the provost and vice president of academic affairs at Bowie State, said the university did feasibility studies when beginning to think about new academic programs and saw a large demand for tech jobs.
Additionally, he cited the need for more diversity in the tech industry and how Bowie State, a historically Black university, can help provide those learning opportunities for its students.
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“We tried to diversify our academic portfolio in terms of just being a traditional liberal arts institution, knowing that we’re also looking at the market demand, that’s out there … that we also are keeping up and providing our students, and definitely those students who are minorities, coming to the HBCU, really have an opportunity to have that firsthand experience,” Goodman said.
Echoing Irani, John Michel, an associate professor at Loyola University Maryland, said the academic offerings from universities isn’t necessarily indicative of the current job market.
He said the need for more tech-related jobs has existed for the past decade and that a lot of universities are just catching up.
“I think that higher ed moves very slowly,” Michel said. “It’s moving at a snail’s pace at best. It is near impossible to make things happen very quickly.”
Though he agrees with Michel, Mac McComas, senior program manager of the 21st Century Cities Initiative at the Johns Hopkins University, said a connection could be made between the new degree offerings and the current job market.
“I think it’s really a response to a long trend and a longtime need for this demand, where, again, you’ll see this and both industries where the US has imported a lot of talents, kind of internationally for health- and tech- related jobs and we haven’t really been able to produce enough of that talent locally.”