Top U fields have a future in the workforce

Some of the fastest growing types of degrees at the University match growing industries.
Brittany Turnis and Tyler Joing, both majoring in recreation, park and leisure studies, spent their weekend at Afton State Park for a class teaching winter camping skills. Turnis wants to be a law enforcement ranger at a national park after graduating.
March 05, 2012

Jobs: They’ve made headlines since the economy tanked in 2008. Parents lost jobs, houses foreclosed and, for college graduates, finding a place to use that expensive degree is tough.

But things are looking up. As the economy recovers, many of the University of Minnesota’s fastest-growing academic disciplines fall into industries predicted to thrive.

Biological and biomedical sciences, recreation and fitness studies and construction trades saw the highest percentage growth in graduates within the past decade.

If those students work in the fields they studied, they’ll likely meet increasing demand. By 2020, health care, construction, science and service work are projected to grow more than most sectors, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Before long, baby boomers will retire. In Minnesota, that will bring new jobs, said Oriane Casale, an assistant director with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

Two University fields with decreases in diplomas — architecture and related services and ethnic, cultural and gender studies — are likely shrinking for reasons unrelated to the workforce, department staff say.

Casale said she believes employers — even in technical fields — are looking for that combination of analytical and writing skills.

College tends to pay off regardless of the major, she said. On average, Minnesotans who finished college made more than twice as much money as those with only high school degrees. Their unemployment? Half of those without a diploma.

“There’s a real wage premium to education — across the board,” Casale said.

Biology and biomedical sciences

If biochemistry junior Esther Chen goes to medical school after she finishes her degree, her job prospects are good.

Health care and technical jobs are expected to be the fastest-growing in the next decade. The fastest-growing University discipline, biological and biomedical sciences, fits in that field.

Chen’s lucky — she decided science was what she wanted to do before she came to college.

“It wasn’t the growing jobs factor at all.”

She said most of her peers want to go to medical school. Others are looking into nursing or going to graduate school to do research.

Without a graduate degree, biology majors make about $50,000, according to a study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. With a graduate degree, projected salary increases by 106 percent.

To meet workforce and student demand, the University’s Board of Regents in October voted to slightly increase enrollment of science, technology, engineering and math students.

“I think a lot of people want to make a difference and they see [the sciences] as an avenue for doing so — not only in their college career but in life after they leave this place,” said Mark Sorenson-Wagner, director of student programs at the College of Science and Engineering.

Another factor in growth? Caring for the aging baby-boom generation as they leave the workforce.

Sorenson-Wagner said the scientific background students get in analytics and problem-solving is applicable to many fields outside the major, like consulting and business.

Construction trades

Despite having experience in the field, it took University construction management graduate Jack Winkels, 22, three months and 75 applications to get a job interview.

With a housing crisis at the center of the 2008 recession, construction was one of the hardest-hit industries. Unemployment was as high as 18 percent in January, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But luckily for a small-but-growing construction management program at the University, the construction industry is expected to rebound, with 22 percent projected growth in the next decade. That’s the second-fastest projected growth.

Last April, Winkels landed a job as a construction supervisor at Xcel Energy.

“Traditionally, a lot of people went into construction because it was a family business or they came up through the trade,” said Ann Johnson, faculty director of the University’s construction management program.

Now it’s more important to have a degree.

“We did get hit pretty hard by the economy, and I think we’re starting to get our numbers back,” Johnson said.

Winkels said this is his team’s busiest year yet. He’s expecting slow, steady recovery for now, with major growth for construction in the long term.

“It’s always going to be needed,” he said.

Recreation and fitness studies

Brittany Turnis spent part of a recent winter weekend camping at Afton State Park — for school.

The sophomore is studying recreation, parks and leisure, a degree offered through the College of Education and Human Development.

Recreation and fitness studies includes sports management and kinesiology students.

Turnis said hers is a hands-on major: She organizes events and programs through classes.

Students work with vendors and sponsors to coordinate the Gopher Adventure Race, a race for University students, faculty and staff that began in 2010.

“This major puts you out there and gets you connected to people who can help you in the future or maybe get you a job,” she said.

Many students in these fields go into service work, an industry expected to be the fourth-fastest growing.

“When they graduate they can say, ‘I have a degree, but I also have a wealth of experience that I learned in my coursework and also outside in the field,’” said Connie Magnuson, the recreation, parks and leisure studies program coordinator.

During recessions, families look closer to home for amusement, like at parks, Magnuson said.

And while the recession also means cuts to city programs that eliminate some positions, new federal conservation programs and an emphasis on healthier lifestyles could contribute to growth, Magnuson said. She thinks growth in program enrollment has increased due to the publicity of the Gopher Adventure Race and more students discovering the major.

Turnis hopes to be a law enforcement ranger at a national park.

Architecture and related services

Sophomore Hannah Mayer said she’s always liked designing and building things, so architecture was a natural fit.

Driven by the housing market collapse, unemployment for recent architecture graduates — at nearly 14 percent — is the highest of any major, according to a report from the Georgetown workforce center.

Those numbers might not reflect reality, said Trevor Miller, a spokesman for the College of Design.

Students don’t go straight from a bachelor’s degree in architecture to being a full-fledged architect. Most states, including Minnesota, require that architects have a graduate degree and internship experience.

The decline in architecture degrees at the University probably has more to do with structural changes from when the College of Design was created in 2006, Miller said. It meant fewer freshmen were admitted.

“Everything that’s around you has all been designed,” Miller said. “We have architectural grads that now work for Allina and Mayo — not only redesigning the processes of delivering health care, but redesigning health care.”

Ethnic, culture and gender studies

Liberal arts degrees — like in gender and women’s studies and other small majors at the University — don’t always translate right into one profession or another.

Anna Nowak graduated from the University in 2009 with a degree in gender, women and sexuality studies. She taught English in Korea for nine months and then worked at Seward Co-op and Smitten Kitten before getting a job as a closed-caption editor last year.

Nowak said a lasting effect of her studies in college taught her to think critically about what she sees in the media.

“I think there’s not necessarily a set path, but overall, the way it impacts my life is for the better,” she said.

Enrollment in GWSS classes is up, according to Judith Katz, academic adviser for the department. She said the decline in graduates in proportion to all degrees probably has to do with society’s emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math fields.

“There’s this misconception that if you’re in the sciences, you’ll get a job,” she said, “and if you have a liberal arts degree, you won’t.” She said GWSS coursework teaches students to look at the world differently, like through political, scientific, historical and cultural lenses.

But all four-year bachelor’s degrees tend to pay off, according to a Michigan State University study that found nearly 40 percent of companies surveyed hire talent across the board.

Jeff Strohl, director of research at the Georgetown center, said the broad-based liberal arts education teaches the ability to learn. A more flexible education means workers can move between jobs, he said.

“When you graduate, your major is just one part of your résumé,” said Paul Timmins, director of the Career and Community Learning Center in CLA.

Methodology: Using data from the Office of Institutional Research, fastest-growing majors are calculated based on percent change as percent of total degrees awarded between the years 2002-03 and 2010-11.

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