One of the goals in Nevada as the economy is rebuilt is to create and foster a culture of education in the state. A vibrant economy requires a skilled, trained, well educated workforce which acts as a draw for entrepreneurs, businesses that look to relocate from other states and those that want to expand within Nevada’s borders.
Like all facets of education, post-secondary institutions, both public and private, had to adjust during the recent recession. State funding to schools was decreased, financial aid for students became uncertain and students considering heading to private institutions had to stop and consider cost.
However, the change in recent years has been a return to school by people already out in the business world, working. Higher education is being seen as one way for Nevada’s workforce to get back on its feet and for the economy to recover. Individuals throughout the state are returning to school in higher numbers than they were pre-recession.
“We’ve got a very robust higher education team throughout the state between profit and nonprofit public schools for higher education that have identified and understand the importance of continuing education,” said Kathy Gamboa, territory vice president–West/Central Region, University of Phoenix.
University of Phoenix has a full range of MBA programs for students either at one of their Nevada campuses or as an online course. The school also offers several certificate programs available online.
The trend in executive education has been an increase in students, according to Dr. Okeleke Nzeogwu, MBA program director, Roseman University of Health Sciences. Within the realm of executive education, most students who are returning are seeking customized, targeted education.
Roseman offers MBA programs for healthcare professionals, nurses, pharmacists and people already working in the healthcare field who are looking to become the next wave of managers to lead their organizations. “We’re seeing growth from employees who are looking at the future, and growth from organizations that want to have employees receive additional education so they’re prepared for the future,” said Dr. Nzeogwu.
“More people who did not have a graduate degree are looking to obtain a graduate degree,” said Kathy Cunningham, associate regional dean, Nevada, National University. “People are trying to position themselves either for the next promotion or for an alternate career if they need to make that change.”
Whether it’s a degree or a certificate program, executive or continuing education, the bad economy is sending students back to school to learn something new. UNR’s extended studies programs offer executive education through professional development courses. “Basically, what we’re trying to do is extend that knowledge the student has achieved upon completion of their degree that may be required in their work setting. As they initially head into that setting, maybe not ever having an experience in that role of working, they need additional education in order to be able to thrive and survive in the setting they choose to work in,” said Fred Holmon, vice provost, Extended Studies, College of Business, UNR.
“The programs we offer allow students to become, not necessarily experts, but to earn the education they need to move into a brand new field,” said Emmanuel Sarris, director of continuing education, UNLV. The programs UNLV’s continuing education offers are non-degree certificate programs from a non-credit, non-profit, community- focused branch of the university.
Nevada State College is a four year degree-granting institution in Henderson which is just starting to look into accelerated courses, five to eight weeks long, and also making a move to include online programming and executive education. In the wake of the recession, the school has seen increased enrollment which seems to stem from two reasons: students who need new skills, new training and possibly new employment; and students who’ve discovered the job they worked at before the recession no longer exists.
Accelerated learning may be the way education is headed. Certificate programs, which may be accredited through a college associated with the program, work closely with organizations and societies for the industry that needs the training. For example, a human resources certificate program would seek approval through a process with the Human Resources Certification Institute; once approved, the certificate would be recognized by human resources organizations.
“I believe the certificate area will be one of the fastest growing areas in education,” said Fred Holman, vice provost, Extended Studies, UNR. “There’s a growing audience interested in that, particularly young adult learners, because it may be the most expedient way, certainly more expedient than getting another degree.” This doesn’t mean everybody will do it, but it’s worth looking into for individuals looking to gain more eduation.
For adult learners who already have a degree and work experience, the certificate is a good option for that additional education, rather than pursuing another degree. “For some people, the certificate serves that role,” said Holman. He reiterated that, “it gets that learning to them quicker and if they already have an MBA or something like that, and they don’t perceive pursuing a higher degree or a master’s degree of some form, the certificate works for them.”
Back to School
Executive education refers to post-graduate level programs, mostly in business, including both degree programs and certificate programs in specific industries. Programs are offered through state colleges and private higher education institutions and can range from six week certificate courses to two year degrees, most earned by individuals who are already in the workforce.
What that means is workers are going back to school to learn how to do what they do better, or to learn how to do something new if what they used to do doesn’t quite exist in the post-recession world. It means new leadership, management and organization skills coming into the workforce and, in some cases, workers are obtaining advanced degrees. Statistically, Nevada has fewer graduates with bachelor’s and master’s degrees than the rest of the country. However, now that education is being recognized as a necessary component in the business world, that fact may change.
Executive education doesn’t necessarily refer only to those people who run corporations and front businesses. It’s anyone and everyone who has graduated with a degree and is learning past that degree, and those people in the workforce going back for more education.
When asked if UNLV’s continuing education arm is seeing students who are unemployed, underemployed or looking to move up, Sarris says it’s all of the above. “Our students are actually everyone and anyone. A lot of them are looking to get into a different career, a lot are looking to move up in their career and some are just trying to add some new skills or do something different. So, when we market our programs, we don’t necessarily market to a specific age group or generational group or genre of people, we market to everybody, because anybody would want to take any of our programs at any time.”
What’s Your Major?
So just what are people looking for when they head back into postgraduate classes or into a certificate program that might take them into a whole new career world?
A little bit of everything. MBA programs are very popular, whether they’re online or on-campus. UNLV’s continuing education programs include one of the biggest paralegal programs in the country as well as a human resources program. UNR’s Extended Studies program finds project management is a popular offering; leadership certification programs are also doing very well. Some of the new programs starting up at various schools and gathering steam include management, leadership and medical assistant programs.
Returning students often opt for advanced degrees that build on their previous education or employment. “If they have an undergraduate degree in business, they’ll head into an MBA program, but people are also transitioning into areas where the jobs are better,” said Cunningham. “There are a lot of people looking to move into the medical field because that’s still a very open field job-wise.”
Medical training in the form of nursing education and biology programs is growing in popularity as Nevada continues to align itself with healthcare as it relates to workforce development, according to Spencer Stewart, associate vice president college relations, Nevada State College.
University of Phoenix has seen an increase in the master’s of criminal justice administration program and security programs that focus on cyber-terrorism.
Some employees are heading back to school because their companies are gaining a social media presence and the employees have no background or experience in it. They attend workshops and seminars to understand how to write for social media and get a foundation in it.
Social media isn’t the only thing online – education is moving that way, too.
There are a lot of people interested in the project management certificate program at UNR’s Extended Studies, said Holman, and there’s a lot of interest in the online executive MBA program. The fact that students are interested in and pursuing a program that’s completely online indicates they don’t have a lot of extra time, Holman said, and they probably don’t have the luxury of going on campus on a regular basis.
Online education and certificate programs allow employees to go back for additional education and training on their own terms and their own time while the employer still retains their services. Another advantage of certificate programs is the accelerated learning allows employees to put what they’ve learned to work immediately.
In August 2011, the University of Nevada Reno, College of Business launched an online Executive MBA program. Within less than a year the program has grown from the initial 14 students to 25, and been ranked fourth in the country by Bloomberg Businessweek, according to Kambiz Raffiee, associate dean and director of online executive MBA programs, UNR. The program offers quality integrated education at the graduate level in business management, and focuses on managerial skills in problem identification and analysis, leadership, management and adaptive thinking skills. The Executive MBA program is very attractive to people already working in positions and wanting to upgrade their skills and move up.
In addition to online education, hybrid education is growing in popularity as people remain time-crunched. Nearly 40 percent of Nevada State College full-time equivalent students are enrolled in online or hybrid classes, according to Stewart.
“The school embraced online instruction and now is looking at new ways of delivering instruction, so we’ve been working on this for a while in the general education track and now are figuring out how we perhaps can apply that in the executive track,” said Stewart. Hybrid classes allow students to study both online and on-campus. The flexibility of such programs often makes it easier for students to learn. Students taking online courses perform marginally better than those in on-campus programs. Those given the choice of a hybrid program have the advantage of additional learning time and instructional elements.
Findings at Nevada State College correlate with the U.S. Department of Education findings. “One of the things we have found, and this aligns itself with national literature, is that a hybrid arrangement seems to be the most successful when it comes to student success within that program, what students retain from that course and also on the cost side,” said Stewart. By assessing the programs, it appears the hybrid classes allow students to succeed at the same time the college keeps its costs down and utilizes campus space well.
Business and Education
“I really feel the role of education has evolved dramatically because of the different demands we have in the workforce and all the different technological advancements we’ve seen in the past 10 years,” said Gamboa. “The role education plays in business has changed, and more importantly, employers are looking for people who can come out of a program and be able to immediately provide a contribution to the workplace; employers are looking for timely, applicable intangibles.”
Or, as Dr. Nzeogwu said, “Everybody knows things are going to change and going to change in drastic ways, so they’re training to prepare their employees for the change.”
Businesses benefit when employees go back to school for additional education. Business management programs with emphasis on leadership are becoming increasingly popular. In this semi-post-recession world, Holman said he’s seeing companies that went through downsizing where the employees who remain now need different skill sets to take on responsibilities that became theirs when their fellow employees left. They’re outside their comfort zones and outside their initial job descriptions.
“The beauty of professional development programs is we can bring in folks whose needs are alike into the setting of a seminar or workshop,” said Holman. “These people may be from different companies but a seminar allows them to be in a setting with other people going through the same things in other companies. They can share ideas that may be useful in their own settings.”
Some businesses are willing, and able, to chip in and help their employees learn those timely, applicable intangibles and the leadership and management skills they need. Students who can remain with an employer while earning a post-graduate degree or executive education certificate become even more valuable assets to the company for which they work.
“Employers certainly understand that an educated workforce is a benefit for them organizationally and that they’ll benefit from the enhanced skills and critical thinking abilities the student develops,” said Gamboa. Businesses may not always be able to support employees returning for more education or offer tuition reimbursement, but they may offer a partial reimbursement or time off to attend school and work on projects. Kathy Cunningham said National University is seeing incentives for military personnel returning home to make education possible for them.
That doesn’t mean every potential employee who would like to gain some extra skills or learn a new career will be able to. “People want to come back and take classes and get into a new career, but often they’re struggling to pay for it, and sometimes the financial burden the program may put on the student is too much, even though they’re not expensive courses,” said Sarris. The continuing education programs are priced competitively, and there are some financial aid options, but that doesn’t mean everyone can afford it.
Educating the Workforce
In Nevada, educational institutions routinely work with businesses to meet workforce needs, design curriculums and offer training to employees. The non-credit, non-profit arm of continuing education at UNLV creates certificate programs and corporate training for local companies. “If they have employees who need skills, we can create classes for that employer, and if there’s a pool of people looking for jobs, we’ll look at the numbers and job opening trends and try to build our programs around that, too,” said Sarris. “We’re here for the community.”
“I’m very passionate about the fact that we have such tremendous business partners in the community that are supporting education no matter where an employee chooses to go or what program they’re in,” said Gamboa. “The recognition of the value of creating that culture of education within our state is so important right now and truly is going to be the game changer for us in helping us move free of the challenging economic times we’ve had. Definitely we’ve got employers that understand that the workers that have the skills and the training help us be more competitive as Nevada continues to grow its economy and provide more employment opportunities for its residents.”