Top Degrees: Market demographics determine which college / prep programs stay or go

At 8.5 percent, Michigan has the highest unemployment rate in the nation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But area educators say there are still plenty of good-paying jobs right here in northern Michigan, and you can land one if you pick the right field of study.

Leaders at Northwestern Michigan College strive to stay on top of the job market, they say, and offer the most up-to-date degrees for their students. Most programs have an advisory board of professionals helping design the curriculum.

Kari Kahler, director of NMC's Department of Learning Services, says the college partners with Economic Modeling Specialists Inc. to stay abreast of changing market demographics. When school leaders see changing career trends, they aren't shy about re-evaluating their programs. She cited a new insurance certificate as an example.

"Members of the insurance community approached our business academic area to request that we train people for insurance, so we have developed a new certificate for insurance beginning this fall," says Kahler (see story pg. 32).

Other new academic programs include an entrepreneurial certificate and changes to the computer information technology area.

Changes are also made based on declining enrollment. NMC programs that have been dropped in recent years include: Patient Access Certificate, Webmaster Certificate, Electronics Technology, and Drafting & Design Technology.

Recently, the Traverse City Business News interviewed leaders from Northwestern Michigan College and the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District Career-Tech Center to see what degrees are currently in demand.

Top 5 degrees at NMC

(Spring 2008 Semester)

General Liberal Arts & Science -437 students

The most popular degree at NMC does not focus on just one skill. During the spring semester, more than 430 students were working toward a liberal arts degree. Graduate requirements include courses in English, history, science, math, and social sciences. The degree works like a "sample platter," letting students take a wide variety of courses before they settle on a specific major or transfer to a four-year college or university.

Pre Associate Degree in Nursing – 402 students

The nursing degree continues to be very popular because of the demand for health care workers. Last semester, 402 students were enrolled in this program, about 75 more than last year. The Michigan Department of Labor estimates that the demand for registered nurses will increase each year and expects more than 3,000 job openings in the state each year. Leaders at Munson Medical Center say they are working with NMC to ensure health care needs are met now, and in the future.

"With the aging baby boomer generation possibly bringing more retiree-age people to the region, and many nurses at Munson who are of that same generation anticipating retirement, we foresee a continued need for qualified nursing candidates," said Vice President for Patient Care Services Jim Fischer.

Education – 265 students

According to the U.S. Department of Education, one million new teachers are expected to be hired nationally between 2002 and 2010. Michigan will need a big share of those teachers because state leaders say there's a critical shortage of people qualified to teach subjects like biology, chemistry, foreign languages, and mathematics. That is one reason why more than 260 students at NMC are on a path to becoming teachers. Along with daily course work, students must also spend 30 hours observing in a K-12 classroom before they earn their degree and can transfer to a teaching program at a four-year college or university.

Culinary Arts – 183 students

Cooking skills may seem like something you can teach yourself. But if you want one of the 1.3 million new food service jobs that the government says will be created nationally by 2016, you'll need specialized training. That's just what more than 180 students are getting at the Great Lakes Culinary Academy. The school is accredited by the prestigious American Culinary Federation, and prepares students for entry-level jobs as chefs and kitchen managers. Classes include everything from Introduction to Baking to buying fresh foods from farmers. One of the biggest attractions of the culinary arts degree is its hands-on-learning approach. Students can try out their recipes and kitchen management skills on real customers at Lobdell's Teaching Restaurant.

General Business – 137 students

Rounding out the top five degrees at NMC is the General Business program. Nearly 140 students are learning skills they can use immediately to help run large and small companies. Over two years, business students take classes that include accounting, customer service, computers, and business law. For many students, a business degree is a great career choice. A recent survey of Michigan's "Top 50 Jobs" included at least 10 business-related jobs such as: personal finance advisor, sales manager, marketing manager, human resource assistant.

To view all Top 50 jobs, go to:

TBA-ISD Career-Tech Center

Teaching a skill that can lead to an in-demand job is the mission of the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District's Career-Tech Center. More than 1,100 students take classes at 19 high schools across the five-county Grand Traverse region. They learn on some of the latest equipment and train with professionals. Afterward, job placement assistance is provided.

"Students must consider 21st century skill development for any career. It is not enough to have skills to compete locally. Students must develop a skill set that will allow them to compete globally," said Principal Jason Jeffrey.

Top 5 programs at

Career-Tech Center

(Spring 2008 Semester)

Medical programs – 135 students

More than 130 students at the Career-Tech Center want to join the health care industry. Along with important classes in CPR and first aid, students can also train to be a nurse's assistant or an EMT.

Visual Imaging Technology –

108 students

One of the fastest-growing programs is Visual Imaging Technology. In this program students are taught the basics of traditional off-set printing, which is widely used to create magazines and catalogues. Students also learn how to design graphics on computers, preparing them for the next generation of jobs in graphic design.

Culinary Arts – 85 students

More than 80 students hope their love of food will turn into a high-paying job. Along with learning cooking basics, students also take catering courses and even test out their creative side by carving ice sculptures. They then apply their cooking and management skills at the student-run World Class Café.

Automotive Technology –

80 students

Students in this program are revved up when it comes to working on cars and trucks. During this program they learn everything from engine repair to car electronics. Once they master those skills, they head out to local auto dealership to get hands-on training from experienced mechanics.

Auto Body Repair – 53 students

The fifth most popular program is Auto Body Repair. More than 50 students are learning how to repair dents, scratches, and other car damage. After their second year, students are required to take a state test that qualifies them to work as auto body repair specialists at any garage in the state.

Courses added/dropped in

past 5 years

The TBA-ISD is also changing with the times, and listening to demand from the community. Recently, classes in Public Safety and Protective Services were added to fill the need for new police officers, firefighters, and EMTs. Four years ago the Travel & Tourism program was eliminated after three years of declining enrollment.

Two manufacturing companies that have hired students from the Career-Tech Center include National Vacuum and Century Inc. Leaders at each company told the TCBN that there's a perception that all manufacturing companies aren't doing well. Not true, they said, adding there is a demand at their companies for high-skilled workers. Principal Jason Jeffrey added that the Career-Tech Center can't keep up with the demand for manufacturing workers. BN