Here are 3 academic programs for the professionals of tomorrow

"AI is going to apply to all workers and industries, and it will also apply to students and faculty in higher education," said Zach Paz, chief operating officer and executive vice president of product at Gray DI.

Colleges and universities are in the middle of an academic arms race to create curricula relevant to today’s jobs. If your institution wants to be ahead of the curve and discover the next exciting academic program to offer students, take some advice from Gray Decision Intelligence.

Gray DI has identified the five emerging programs to watch in 2024. These are programs that have not hit widespread adoption but consider research and innovations currently gripping society. So, yes, AI drove the majority of these pathways. It made up three of the five programs.

Regenerative medicine and digital bioacoustics, two programs unrelated to AI, are currently limited due to the substantial specialization they require. Conversely, AI will be widely adopted by a critical number of people, similar to that of the internet. And much like the 21st-century transition, it will create new jobs, economies, and ways of living, said Ned Caron, senior vice president of marketing at Gray DI, in a video conference on the findings.

“Is there a concern about AI ‘replacing us?’ Yes, there is,'” said Caron, in a video conference. “That’s why I think it’s very critical that people learn how to apply AI across their current jobs to make sure they can’t be replaced and to take advantage of some of the efficiencies that allow AI to make them do their current jobs even easier.”

Elaine Rowles, director of research, forecasted the fruition of creative AI in Gray DI’s January 2022 report. Referred to more popularly now as generative AI, ChatGPT broke into the scene mere months later. Additionally, they predicted other programs related to disinformation intelligence and cannabis would emerge. The former has yet to find a predominant place in academic curriculum, but universities are finding exciting ways to integrate. The latter is quietly cropping up as alternative credentials, like at the University of California, Riverside and throughout Maryland.

Gray DI collects its data from publicly available resources only, including from federal agencies, literature reviews, reports, media and venture capital earnings, said Rowles. 

More from UB: How an emerging economy is fueling an academic renaissance

AI Literacy

When you look at the speed it took for some of the world’s most groundbreaking technologies to access 100 million users, it took years: widespread use of the telephone for 75 years, the smartphone for 16 years, and WhatsApp for three and a half years.

It took ChatGPT a mere two months to reach such a seismic milestone, according to Gray DI research. It’s so widespread that democratizing its use is vital to human equity, said Zachary Paz, executive vice president and COO. “This is an area you want to move and act quickly in.”

Colleges have responded by prioritizing the creation of short-term certificates and other alternative credentials focused on upskilling digital users unacquainted with the technology. Davidson College and edX offer a three-week course called AI Prompt Engineering for Beginners and Vanderbilt University offers a free course on specialization in prompt engineering via Coursera. Certificates are now available at Cornell University in AI strategy and at Miami Dade College in AI awareness, thanks to its AI institute.

AI’s direct impact across industries requires higher education institutions to upskill these students, but AI literacy is twofold. Not only do students need to be taught the skills, but institutions must understand how to use them at an administrative level or risk becoming antiquated.

“AI is going to apply to all workers and industries, and it will also apply to students and faculty in higher education,” said Paz.

Applied AI

While AI literacy focuses on introducing AI to the masses, applied AI requires a more technical understanding and further specialization, but supply has been slow to catch up with demand, said Caron. There were at least 19 new AI programs announced in higher ed in 2023, but new student enrollment bottlenecked at 64% in fall 2023.

“The individuals that can help a company build out AI customized to them is not there yet, and this is where applied AI needs to step up and fill in the gaps,” said Caron.

Education has been slow to catch up to the speed at which industries are changing, Caron added. One industry that’s been “flipped on its head” from an operation standpoint is marketing.

Technology and policy

As pervasive as AI is becoming across most aspects of the marketplace, we need to train professionals to guard and protect its use from bad actors, said Mary Upchurch, executive vice president of customer success.

Moreover, Upchurch pointed to the legal ambiguities AI has created, such as in the case of self-driving cars. For example, who should be held liable for an accident?

“Should certain types of roads be off-limits?” she said. “There’s no cohesive interstate regulation. Is it legal to drive across state lines? I don’t know, but it would be helpful to begin thinking about how we will tackle that.”

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. His beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

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