Drawing on Eduventures’ 20-plus years of experience helping universities develop, launch, and assess academic programs, the Program Spotlight Series of Wake-Up Calls seeks to call attention to best practices in program development. The first in the series introduces the central elements of a strong market assessment through the lens of the healthcare administration market.
If you’re like many of our clients, you’ve watched the rapid growth of the healthcare industry and you’re probably wondering how to get involved. The possibilities are abundant. Should you launch a new program? Add a concentration? Invest in marketing? Move online? Retire a current program to open up new opportunities?
Regardless of your next step, there is always risk in program development. Predicting the supply and demand for a program area is a complex endeavor, yet one that institutions must tackle for every new program. A strong market assessment could include many factors, and is highly dependent on available data.
To get started, we recommend you locate the following data to better understand the market:
Goal: to establish student demand and the supply of graduates into the labor market.
Conferral trends look at the most recently reported conferrals for a given degree, or the number of students graduating from a program. While enrollment data, combined with retention rates, can provide a short-term view of the next few years, this data is not reported in a national database for programs at the graduate level. Therefore, to establish student interest in a particular field, the conferrals from recent years provide a lagging indicator of demand for a particular degree.
In the case of healthcare administration (HCA) master’s degrees, student demand grew in the early 2000s, leveled off for a few years, and currently has been growing since 2010. Compared to master’s degrees nationally, which grew at an average of just 2% per year from 2010-2014, HCA master’s grew at an average rate of 11% per year, making the demand for master’s degrees in healthcare administration exceed master’s degrees as a whole.
Source: NCES, IPEDS, 2016.
Labor Market Projections and Job Availability
Goal: to establish the job prospects for graduates.
Once a backward-looking picture of demand has been established, it’s important to examine a forward-looking trend. Labor projections can provide this view as a means of predicting what demand for this program may look like in the future.
For healthcare administration graduates, there were about 17,000 open positions in 2015. With only 8,500 master’s students graduating with healthcare administration degrees, it seems as though students should be able to find jobs in this industry, particularly given that jobs projections for the next decade assume this field will grow nearly 18%, 1.5 times that of the national average.
Still, only 12% of medical and health service management jobs require master’s degrees. Additionally, graduates may face competition for these managerial roles from other students earning MBAs with concentrations in healthcare, or master’s degrees in nursing, public administration, and public health.
Data source: Economic Modeling Specialists International (EMSI) / www.economicmodeling.com.
The Influence of the Professional Community
Goal: to understand employer needs and professional standards.
Institutions must also look beyond conferral and labor market data to the profession itself since professional organization standards often drive students to pursue further education or professional development. There may be regulations within the healthcare industry that drive student demand as well.
One likely reason that HCA master’s degrees took off in the past decade, for example, is that professional organizations push for specific education standards and continuing education. The American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE), an organization of over 40,000 members that seeks to advance executive healthcare excellence, encourages its members to earn advanced standing in the organization by becoming Fellows. ACHE Fellows hold advanced degrees (master’s or above), are board certified health care executives, and meet several other requirements of the organization. Currently, about 10,000 of its members have advanced to Fellow status.
Putting it Together
So let’s put this all together using our example of the healthcare administration market. What have we learned about the Master’s in Healthcare Administration market?
- Growth Potential. Healthcare management is, and continues to be, a growing field. It is projected to grow 18% over the next ten years.
- Regulatory Environment. Currently, only nursing home administrators are required to obtain licensure due to federal funding regulations. Institutions might watch for additional oversight for healthcare administration positions, if funding and regulations become more tightly controlled.
- Career Support. Graduates are competing with students from a wide variety of program types, so they may need career support to differentiate themselves in the market as they pursue job opportunities.
- Market Opportunity. What if your institution is new to the market? There is still room for institutions to enter the market, but with 215 providers offering master’s degrees in HCA do not expect high enrollments. Top competitors will likely differentiate themselves as national providers and invest significantly in marketing resources.
To understand what concentrations might set your school apart, or what curricula are most needed in the workplace, survey local employers to understand their most pressing needs.
Additionally, if you’re looking to refresh your programming, consider alternatives to the standard master’s degree. With so many master’s degree conferrals in HCA, additional certifications and stackable credentials that lead to a master’s degree will likely be of interest to those currently in the workforce.
If you’ve seen declines in conferrals or enrollments at your institution, then you should carefully assess this market. Consider questions such as: What type of student is no longer enrolling? What do students want in a degree program? Is another program at your institution cannibalizing this one? Are there changes that need to be made to win back a particular student type?
Finally, if you decide there is a market for a program in your region, the next important step is to consider if and how your institution is ready and able to launch such a program. Stay tuned for more program coverage as part of this Program Spotlight Series.