New and Emerging Programs – Where Are They Now?

January 3, 2023

Every year, Gray hosts a webinar featuring five new and emerging academic programs with high potential for higher education. 

To develop our list of new program ideas, we read about the latest technological and cultural trends, we scour futurist websites, reports, and journals, we learn about technological innovations and scientific breakthroughs, we track new program announcements by colleges and universities, and we examine venture capital spending and government grants. In essence, we learn all we can about what is happening now and what might happen in the future. We identify new fields of study that present new program opportunities for colleges and universities.

We hope you join us for this year’s webinar on Five Emerging Programs for 2023, which will be held on January 12th at 2:00 PM ET. This is our most popular webinar every year and always generates lively discussion. To whet your appetite, we thought we would take a look back at some of the notable programs discussed in previous years.

Cannabis Is Growing Like A Weed

A few years ago we identified an opportunity for institutions to develop programs around cannabis. While this clearly is not a program every school would consider, we are seeing a significant number of cannabis-related program launches, including 13 new programs announced in 2022 and seven new programs announced in 2021. These programs focus on the business side of the cannabis industry or its medicinal and therapeutic properties.

Yes, Virginia, You Can Get A Degree in Esports

This is a niche program opportunity that may, in my opinion, be a harder sell to parents than students. But esports is growing in popularity, both as a varsity sport and as a field of study. We have identified 32 esports programs at colleges nationwide. Most of these programs are at the bachelor’s level and focus on the business/sports management side of the esports industry.

Blasting Off

A few years ago the idea of a commercial space economy seemed like an out-of-this-world idea – but space tourism is becoming a reality. Companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin have sent civilians and paying customers into space. Industry analysts at Citigroup and Bank of America forecast the space industry could be worth $1 trillion, or more, in the next decade.

Colleges and universities are taking notice and launching programs that address a variety of opportunities that a space economy offers. For example, Colorado School of Mines offers Space Resources programs focused on extraterrestrial mining and extraction. ASU’s Thunderbird School of Global Management launched an executive education program on Space Leadership, Business, and Policy for individuals seeking leadership positions in the space economy. Athens State University launched a bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Systems Management with a Space Systems concentration. Cornell University offers a Spaceflight Mechanics certificate program for engineers seeking foundational knowledge to enter the space industry.

What’s The Beef?

Cellular agriculture is the “farming” of agricultural products from cells rather than animals. This includes meat products like chicken and beef, as well as plant-based foods. Not surprisingly, this program elicited the most comments in our chat during last year’s webinar – both positive and negative. One of its main obstacles to widespread implementation – besides R&D advances and cost – is the obvious “ick” factor that comes with the idea of lab-grown meat. And while we have not seen a lot of programs specifically focused on cellular agriculture emerging in higher education, research in the field continues, and the first International Cellular Agriculture conference is scheduled for this coming June in Finland.

Fact or Fiction – It’s Getting Harder to Tell

Two years ago, we discussed the idea of programs centered on the rise of disinformation – how to identify it, track it, curb its spread, and teach students to think more critically as they navigate the onslaught of “information” that surrounds them. Since then, we have navigated contentious elections and a global pandemic. Disinformation has exploded and it is getting harder and harder to discern fact from fiction.

Like cellular agriculture, we have not seen a lot of programs developed around this area, but curriculum and research on the topic have emerged. For example, NYU offers a course on Disinformation and Narrative Warfare. UNC’s Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life developed a Critical Disinformation Studies syllabus. Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy publishes the MKS Misinformation Review to highlight research on mis- and disinformation.

Is It Real, or is it Creative AI?

Creative AI refers to artificial intelligence systems that are able to generate original, human-like content such as artwork, music, and writing. These systems often use machine learning techniques to analyze and mimic human creativity, allowing them to produce unique and novel outputs. Creative AI has the potential to revolutionize many fields and industries, from art and design to marketing and advertising. However, it also raises questions about the role of humans in creative endeavors and the potential for AI to replace human creativity.

If you don’t think creative AI is a force to be reckoned with in higher education, consider this – the paragraph above was written using OpenAI’s ChatGPT app – in about five seconds.

While we discussed creative AI as a potential program area, it has also become clear that its implications for higher education are far more broad. How will widespread availability of tools like ChatGPT play out in the future? Will students write essays or create artwork using AI? How will you be able to tell? During a recent FutureTrends Forum webinar about the implications of ChatGPT in higher ed, some participants likened the new AI tools to the early days of the calculator, but others were concerned about potential misuse. Software is already being developed to help identify AI-created content, but only time will tell how this plays out. It is definitely something to be on everybody’s radar.

Find Out What’s Next

We hope you enjoyed this recap of some recent programs featured in our Emerging Programs webinars. Not every program we pick pans out – we’re looking at you, Microbiome, a topic we discussed in 2020 that has yet to develop into an academic program. Nevertheless, this is a great opportunity to walk (or Zoom) outside of your comfort zone and consider some ideas you might not have encountered before.

Please join us on January 12th for this year’s webinar on Five Emerging Programs for 2023 when we will unveil our picks for 2023.

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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