Campus Creators: How Higher Ed Can Prepare Students for the Creator Economy

April 18, 2023

Creators are driving a new economy to the tune of over $100 billion. By leveraging social media and their own secret sauce, they are establishing valid careers as influencers, bloggers, vloggers, and content creators. What is more, they are inspiring new generations who dream of being the next Kardashian. Neil Armstrong and Marie Curie have been replaced as role models by Kylen Hodges (creator of the “depressed fish”) and PewDiePie, who earns $400,000 per month playing video games in his comedic videos. 

The Business of Creating and Job Skills

As frivolous as a depressed fish seems, the business of creating and the creator economy is not. It presents an emerging program opportunity for higher education to provide the skills and career training needed to be successful in this increasingly competitive space. And should the depressed fish lose its charm on social media?  Skills in marketing, accounting, communications, videography, and editing, to name a few, are easily transferable to a wide range of employment opportunities.  

For institutions that already have strong courses in these areas, a creator economy program may just click.  

Meme, Myself, and I

Contrary to what many might think, learning to be a successful influencer is hardly a solo undertaking. 

Creators and marketers are not just creating content for their subscribers and customers, they are launching educational programs to teach others how to be successful creators. LinkedIn is investing $25 million in a Creator Accelerator Program to support creators in the US, India, Brazil, and the UK. Nas Academy offers a five-month Creator Accelerator program to teach students how to be independent content creators as well as social media managers and digital marketers. 

Higher education institutions are beginning to tap into this potential student pool as well. Rutgers offers an Influencer Marketing Strategy course on Coursera; as of March 2023, the course had over 42,500 students enrolled. Owens Community College launched a  Media Influencer Certificate in the fall of 2022, touting it as a “one of the first of its kind” program. The curriculum covers a variety of topics, including writing, business, public speaking, research,  web development, digital video, storytelling, and advertising.

Student Athletes Are Cashing In 

The opportunity in higher education may be even bigger.  The NCAA’s recent Name Image Likeness (NIL) ruling has opened up revenue streams for college athletes. According to NBC News, the average college athlete could make about $10k-$30k per year from social media and brand sponsorships. Some are already making much more. Olivia Dunne, a gymnast at LSU, has millions of followers on Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter. She is reported to earn between $31,900 and $43,200 for each sponsored post and has a net worth in the millions. 

According to Gray’s Athletics Benchmarking Dashboard, more than 500,000 students participate in NCAA athletic teams across the US. That is a lot of potential students needing to learn the skills required to take advantage of this new opportunity.

One school is already getting into the game. Arkansas State University launched an undergraduate certificate for Athlete Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) Promotion. The school notes that the program is “a good fit for any athlete looking to build and benefit from their brand while in college.”

Build an Abundance of Transferable Business, Marketing, and Creative Skills

The creator economy also presents opportunities for colleges and universities to build or expand programs for students who may not want to become creators themselves but want to learn how to build a career in this space. 

Companies need employees with digital and social media marketing skills. For example, 1,705 jobs were posted on Indeed for “social media marketers” on a single day in early March 2023.  Almost all of these jobs require at least a bachelor’s degree. They also need people who can create engaging content across all media – be it videos, blog posts, or podcasts.  

Higher education is taking notice, and we expect the trend to continue. In Gray’s New Program Announcement database, we are starting to see announcements of new concentrations and standalone degree programs in Digital and Social Media Marketing, as well as programs focused on teaching content creation skills – video production, sound recording, editing – focused on social media commerce and the creator economy. 

The growth in the creator economy offers new opportunities for colleges and universities to tap into student demand in a $100 billion industry. From certificate programs to incorporating new skills into existing programs, success may be only a click away. 

Elaine Rowles


Elaine works with Gray’s education clients on strategic planning projects, program portfolio evaluations, program feasibility studies, price benchmarking, and research-intensive custom project work. She has performed in-depth analyses of existing programs and institutions, as well as assessed demand and employment opportunities for new and emerging programs.

About Gray DI

Gray DI provides data, software and facilitated processes that power higher-education decisions. Our data and AI insights inform program choices, optimize finances, and fuel growth in a challenging market – one data-informed decision at a time.

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