The fastest growing major—and why it may be surprising

The fastest growing major, construction management, has made large gains in enrollment in recent years, writes Delece Smith-Barrow for U.S. News and World Report.

A recent report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center analyzes enrollment trends in different fields of study. To create the report, researchers used data the Center collects and distributes through partnerships with colleges, state governments, and other educational institutions.

According to the report, the fastest growing majors and disciplines are:

  1. Construction Trades, 26.4%
  2. Science Technologies/Technicians, 16.2%
  3. Liberal Arts and Science, General Studies and Humanities, 6.9%
  4. Communications Technologies/Technicians and Support, 4.9%
  5. Precision Production, 4.5%

Many people probably don't associate construction and related jobs with college degrees—welding, for example, has become politicians' favorite example of a "good job" that doesn't require a degree (though the reality of the career is more complicated than sound bites make it seem).

However, construction management has been growing as a discipline for years now. There were 60 accredited baccalaureate programs in construction management in 2006, and that number increased to 73 by 2015, Smith-Barrow reports. Furthermore, there were 7,659 undergraduate students majoring in construction trade in spring 2016, and that increased to nearly 10,000 in spring 2017, she adds.

One reason programs could be growing is the acute skills gap in the construction industry. In North Texas, construction jobs are expected to increase by 27% by 2024. To meet local demand, North Lake College West Campus has created a construction technology lab to prepare students for the jobs.

Massive skills gap equals massive opportunity for colleges

Students are attracted to construction management because of the combination of intellectual rigor and tangible processes, writes Smith-Barrow. For students who love to build things, it's a way to be part of the construction process without necessarily doing some of the manual labor involved, she argues. In other words, "they're not learning how to drive a nail," says Michael Holland, president of the American Council for Construction Education. "They're learning how to manage that process from a business perspective."

Construction management is a nice blend of architecture, business, and engineering, says Bill Bender, professor and department chair for construction management at the University of Washington. He points out that those areas have been  popular among students for a while. Another reason students might be interested in construction management is because of the profound sense of accomplishment they would get from seeing a project come to life, he argues (Smith-Barrow, U.S. News and World Report, 8/10; National Student Clearinghouse report, accessed 8/11).

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