Evolution of UNC Academic Programs
Experts across the UNC system explain the development of academic programs — the majors, minors, curriculum choices and class offerings that make up the core of the University. How are decisions made, and what factors influence college programs? How do they change over time, responding to shifts in demand and progress in the field?
Learn more about the evolution of academics across the University of North Carolina.
Q: Do academic programs in the UNC system have a life cycle?
A: Kim van Noort, Vice President for Academic Programs, Faculty & Research
Some programs that target emerging fields or short-term workforce needs have a shorter life cycle than others. But a lot of academic programs are core subjects — English, Accounting, Civil Engineering, Nursing, etc. The life cycle of any program is affected by changing needs in the workforce, advances in knowledge, and shifts in critical outcomes.
Many programs in Philosophy have redesigned their curriculum to include ethics courses, which tackle timely subjects like business ethics, biomedical questions, and other emerging areas. That kind of curriculum change is in direct response to shifting demand from students and faculty.
Core programs in other areas are now including data analytics as part of their coursework, often geared towards education, business, bio informatics, health care, or other areas where the growth of big data has changed the skills needed for success. The move to digital information and analysis has caused changed in almost every discipline, from the humanities to health sciences. Programs are continually evolving.
Every academic program in the UNC system passes through a rigorous approval process, and they're reviewed regularly to ensure effectiveness. It is common for campuses to discontinue programs that have reached the end of their life cycle, or to redesign programs to reflect more current best practice and research. Advances in scientific knowledge, changes in workforce and professional school needs, and student interest all play a role in these decisions.
Q: During Board of Governors meetings, the Board votes on instituting and eliminating programs. How are those programs identified?
A: Anna Nelson, Board of Governors and Chair of Educational Planning, Policies and Programs Committee
Campuses are in charge of curriculum development, and the Board of Governors only role is to approve or reject those proposed changes. As chair of the Education Planning, Policies and Programs Committee, I see the final recommendations with the committee that have gone through many stages on a particular campus.
Proposals for the establishment of new programs originate with the faculty and department heads. After undergoing a process that culminates with the approval of the senior leadership and Board of Trustees of a campus, the proposals are then submitted to General Administration for vetting and review. Campuses must submit a plan that outlines need and relevance, including details on curriculum, faculty needs, budget, and adequacy of campus infrastructure. Proposals also undergo external review by other campuses and in the case of doctoral programs, review by experts external to North Carolina. Final recommendations for approval are made to the Board of Governors.
Decisions to eliminate programs also originate with the campuses, often in consultation with General Administration following a review of the number of students graduating from those programs. Sometimes that means a stand-alone major becomes a concentration or minor within a related program. Currently enrolled students are allowed time to finish.
Q: How does the business community and evolving technology fit into academic program changes?
A: Joan Lorden, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at UNC Charlotte
The Data Science Initiative (DSI) at UNC Charlotte is a perfect example. It embodies a university-industry partnership designed to deliver instruction, research, and executive education in data science and analytics, with a focus on economic sectors represented in the Charlotte community. Fields like financial services, energy, health, and retail all play a big role in our regional economy. The core of the DSI is centered in the College of Computing and Informatics, but what makes the DSI distinctive is the combination of informatics and analytics techniques with specialized knowledge from other disciplines.
The two DSI degree programs currently offered are the master’s in Data Science and Business Analytics and the master’s in Health Informatics and Analytics. Both are interdisciplinary, meaning the faculty from business, computing, and health sciences jointly plan the curriculum, award the degrees, and collaborate on research. An executive board of leaders from across the relevant industries — including folks from TIAA, Carolinas Healthcare, Deloitte, and Duke Energy — support the DSI. Industry advisory boards for each degree program have helped inform the curriculum, to keep it up to date and relevant.
These graduate degrees are designed to prepare students with an undergraduate background in science or mathematics to solve industry problems through focused curricula that include internship experiences. The programs address topics like ethics, data governance, cyber security, and communication skills. To meet the needs of working professionals as well as full-time students, courses are offered in several formats, including some shorter-term certificates. Courses completed for a certificate can be applied later toward the full master’s degree, if the student decides to continue. About 200 students are currently enrolled in these programs. Since 2011 we have awarded 42 certificates and 55 master’s in Health Informatics and, since 2014, 18 certificates and 45 masters in Data Science and Business Analytics. The DSI at UNC Charlotte will keep evolving as the use of analytics in research expands across disciplines and as industry looks for talent at every level.
In our undergraduate programs, industry partnerships help create great internship programs. Bank of America partners with us for the Advanced Technology Program (ATP), an 18-month paid internship open to students interested in careers in technology. Established in 2010, 20 students each year from the Belk College of Business and the College of Computing and Informatics apply their knowledge to practical problems, working with BoA personnel in their offices. The program gives students the opportunity to learn professional skills like teamwork and business communication, and make connections with real clients. Every participant so far has been offered a job at Bank of America upon completion of the program (though a few have decided to go straight to graduate school). The bank reports a 75% long-term retention rate of employees hired through the ATP, which is part of the reason they decided to double the size of the program and open it up to students from other majors.
Q: How are our institutions working together to fill demand for new programs or combinations of disciplines?
A: Joe Whitehead, Provost and Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs at NC A&T State University
In 2015-16 at A&T, we reorganized our academic structure to enhance current programming and to promote new academic opportunities in high-demand fields. That reorganization resulted in three new colleges and significant changes in others. We looked at what is being offered across the country and at our sister institutions throughout the state, so we could address unmet needs and further differentiate the A&T experience for our students.
In our College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, we are developing new graduate pathways in response to student interests, market demand, and faculty expertise. In our Department of Social Work and Sociology, we partnered with the UNC Greensboro to launch an innovative joint master of social work program. The program provides students classroom experience on both campuses and has been so successful — we had 90 graduate students in the program in 2016-17 — we are now working on a joint doctoral program. There's great demand for social work faculty across the country, and we can serve that market niche.
We're developing a priority list of new academic programs based on faculty expertise, market analysis, and student interest. These conversations are rich and deep at A&T, as I know they are at other institutions across our system.
Q: Much is written about the state and federal support for STEM courses. Why is that important? Are there other growing disciplines?
A: Junius Gonzales, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs
STEM fields are seen as a driver of the economy, innovation, and jobs. The US Department of Commerce attributes between 1/3 to 1/2 of US economic growth to innovation. To compete globally, North Carolina must produce graduates in the STEM fields and must provide a highly skilled workforce to meet employer demand within the state. Training a large pool of highly skilled STEM graduates in North Carolina helps draw high-tech businesses to the state, which promotes local and regional economic development. The UNC System can play a role in filling the demand for a skilled workforce by training students in STEM and other high-demand disciplines.
Training students in STEM fields has other benefits as well. STEM students often pursue graduate or professional school degrees, contributing to society and to the economy in a variety of ways as physicians, data analysts, research professionals, healthcare professionals, and more. While there are a variety of opinions on how many STEM degrees are needed, certain fields are growing very rapidly. For example, McKinsey predicts a 50-60% gap between supply and demand for data analytics employees by 2018. The need for healthcare workers is expected to expand by almost 30% by 2020 (Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce, 2012), and the US Department of Education predicts a 62% increase in biomedical engineering jobs between 2010 and 2020. In 2012, President Obama’s Council of Advisors issued a policy calling for an additional one million STEM trained workers to meet demand.
STEM careers are not the only sector of the workforce that is expanding. The US Department of Labor projects a 20% increase in jobs in the educational services sector, including K-12 teachers, and the US Department of Education emphasizes not just the value of training teachers, but the importance of training teachers specifically in the STEM fields.
In North Carolina, science and engineering degrees make up 31.4% of all higher education degrees, making NC one of 21 states that exceed the national average of 29%. However, North Carolina is below the national average in the number of science and engineering degrees conferred per college-age resident. The UNC system has a strong role to play in increasing the number of STEM graduates in our state, but many agree that science outreach and education must start early, during the K-12 years. North Carolina has many programs and organizations to encourage students to pursue STEM fields, such as the North Carolina Science Festival, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, North Carolina DNA Day, and a wealth of outreach programs designed to raise awareness among young students of opportunities in the STEM fields. The federal government also encourages K-12 STEM education through a variety of grant opportunities.
Meeting demand for skilled, STEM-trained professionals in North Carolina will take concerted effort on the parts of students, teachers, and administrators both at the K-12 level and beyond. In the recently approved UNC Strategic Plan, the UNC system committed to increasing the number of high quality credentials in the fields of STEM, health sciences, and K-12 education, part of our mission to serve North Carolina's critical needs.