How to Find Academic Opportunity with Emerging Programs

November 29, 2022

Every year, Gray features five new and emerging academic programs with high potential. Scores of new programs are evaluated across dozens of industries, occupations, academic disciplines, and award levels.

Our team evaluates a wide range of data sources and futurist research, including federal research programs (e.g., NIH, DARPA), news articles and trend reports (e.g., New Atlas, The Future of Everything), VC funding trends, and Gray’s internal data on labor market statistics and new program announcements. Each January, we present the winners during our 5 Emerging Programs webinar.

Why Is It Important to Pay Attention to Emerging Programs?

Emerging academic programs offer somewhat risky but significant growth opportunities. Being first to market can boost your brand recognition, build your reputation as an expert in a growing field of study, and establish you as an innovator.

The brand is exciting to talk about but in the near term, increasing enrollment and revenue is usually more important. You can use a newly emerging academic program to increase enrollment for specific populations. For example, if you want to increase the number of male students in your institution, offering an esports program might be appropriate, since it generally skews male. On the other hand, a growing program like physician assistant attracts a balance of women, men, and minorities.

How Can You Leverage Existing Resources to Launch Emerging Programs?

You can often reduce the cost of launching an emerging program by leveraging your existing courses and expertise. Perhaps the simplest example is requiring existing general education courses as part of the program. There may also be foundational courses in the discipline that are needed before more specialized material in the emerging field. For example, a few years ago when Cybersecurity was emerging, foundational computer science courses were needed before the student could really understand much of the specialized material in Cybersecurity.

Another approach combines material from several disciplines to create a new program with few or no new courses. As an example, let’s explore a program we call Data Analytics Plus. This program takes existing content from statistics, data science, and data or business analytics programs (the “Data Analytics” part of the program) and combines it with vertical expertise from other departments (the “Plus”). The resulting programs we have seen emerge include Engineering Analytics, Accounting Analytics, Human Resources Analytics, Health Analytics, Sports Analytics, and Marketing Analytics.

Another suggestion for using existing resources to launch an emerging academic program is to leverage funded research and expertise. Institutions with cutting-edge research programs may be able to translate that research into new academic programs. For example, the University of Maryland recently announced a graduate certificate in Quantum Computing. UMD has over 200 quantum scientists and engineers and has been involved in quantum research for over 30 years. 

What Is the Risk of Creating a New Emerging Program?

An “emerging program” may take years or decades to emerge because of unforeseen market, regulatory, or technical barriers. Newly emerging programs don’t have years of trend data to evaluate and don’t neatly fit into existing taxonomies for educational or labor market data. Enthusiasts, champions, and charlatans often intentionally or unintentionally hype emerging fields, creating “data” out of thin air. In this case, getting reliable information on students, employers, and competition is time-consuming and error-prone.

Emerging Programs for 2023

Identifying and evaluating the potential of emerging programs is both an art and a science. While we don’t profess to always get it right, we have had our share of “hits” over the past five years – think Cybersecurity, Data Analytics Plus, Esports, and even Cannabis programs. So if you’re curious about emerging program ideas that may be right for your university, join us on January 12, 2023, for our 5 Emerging Programs webinar. Thinking outside the box and considering the possibilities is a great way to start the new year.

Click here to register for our upcoming 5 Emerging Programs webinar. 

Mary Ann Romans


Mary Ann creates, defines, and executes marketing strategy at Gray Decision Intelligence.

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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