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Embracing the Future: Why Now is the Time to Launch an AI Program

Megan McCorkle
June 25, 2024
6 mins

In the rapidly evolving higher ed landscape, university presidents and provosts face the critical task of aligning academic offerings with the demands of the future workforce. Breakthroughs in artificial intelligence (AI) are only increasing the rapid pace of change. It is more critical than ever for institutions to demonstrate the value of their degree programs by ensuring graduates have the skills they need to succeed in their careers and empower economic mobility beyond what non-degree providers like bootcamps and MOOCs can provide. Launching courses and programs in AI is not just a strategic move; it is a necessity that holds profound implications for the future of our students, institutions, and society.

Understanding the Demand, Challenges, and Liberal Arts Opportunity for AI Programs

AI is transforming industries across the globe, from healthcare and finance to manufacturing and transportation. According to the World Economic Forum, AI is set to create 97 million new jobs by 2025. Companies are increasingly seeking professionals equipped with AI skills, yet there remains a significant talent gap. A recent employer survey from Washington State University Carson College of Business and Research, in partnership with KRC Research, found that 88% think colleges and universities should provide educational opportunities for students to learn about AI and its practical uses and 74% think incoming college graduates should already have AI user experience prior to entering the workforce.

In a survey of class of 2027 students, 81% of students said their college or university should be preparing them for AI in the workplace. AI-related degree conferrals have increased even more drastically than STEM degrees with 120% increase in conferrals since 2011. By introducing an AI undergraduate program, universities can directly address this demand, ensuring graduates are not only employable but are also leaders in the tech-driven economy.

AI's applications span numerous fields in STEM including data science, robotics, cybersecurity, and bioinformatics, but also in liberal arts fields such as history, literature, and the creative arts. An AI degree program encourages interdisciplinary collaboration, allowing students to apply AI concepts to various domains. This integration enriches the learning experience, broadens research opportunities, and cultivates versatile professionals capable of addressing complex global challenges.

The challenge is that widespread demand for AI expertise is making it harder than ever to source faculty. According to Inside Higher Ed, colleges and universities are struggling to hire and retain a limited pool of faculty in the field:

Many, though not all, of the new faculty hires will be computer scientists, which presents challenges given recent shortages in this area. Also, once AI faculty are hired, colleges will need to identify creative ways to retain them, given their red-hot demand in both academe and industry.

Faculty experts in AI are in limited supply and command higher than average salaries, making hiring faculty in the field unattainable for many small colleges. That's why we're proud to offer shared programs in AI Literacy and Applied AI to ensure every institution can quickly provide students relevant AI coursework at an affordable cost.

Need more proof as to why now is the time for institutions to capitalize on the explosive growth of AI? Here's a snapshot of the strategic benefits to your institution and the impact for your students.

Strategic Benefits of AI Academic Programs for Universities

1. Enhanced Reputation and Competitiveness

Offering a specialized AI program elevates your reputation as a forward-thinking, tech-savvy institution. It signals to prospective students, faculty, and industry partners that the university is committed to pioneering educational excellence and innovation. This competitive edge is crucial in attracting top talent and fostering long-term growth.

2. Increased Enrollment

A unique and in-demand program like AI will attract a diverse and talented pool of students, increasing enrollment rates. According to a 2020 report by Burning Glass Technologies, there has been a 74% increase in student interest in AI-related courses and programs over the past three years. Additionally, a survey by Northeastern University found that 61% of students are interested in AI, indicating robust demand for such programs.

3. Community and Industry Partnerships

Developing an AI program encourages and attracts partnerships with local employers looking to upskill their current staff, presenting even more enrollment opportunity, as well as hire your AI-trained students and graduates. These collaborations can lead to internship opportunities, co-op programs, and industry-sponsored projects, providing students with real-world experience and further enhancing their employability. Moreover, they can lead to joint ventures that benefit both the university and the broader community.

Preparing Students for the Future with AI Skills

1. Equipping Students with Essential Skills

AI education encompasses a range of skills including programming, data analysis, machine learning, and ethical considerations of technology. By launching an AI program, universities ensure that graduates possess the technical expertise and critical thinking skills necessary to thrive in an increasingly AI-led world. Our Applied AI program focuses on the technical skills whereas our AI Literacy program and MBA Specialization in AI focus on training students on how to apply AI to business challenges and navigate the ethical implications of AI.

2. Promoting Ethical and Inclusive AI Development

AI has far-reaching implications on society, raising important ethical questions about privacy, bias, and equity. Universities play a crucial role in shaping the moral framework within which AI develops. Our AI programs integrate course content on ethics, promoting responsible AI development and ensuring that students are mindful of the societal impacts of their work.

3. Fostering Lifelong Learning and Adaptability

The pace of technological change requires professionals who are not only knowledgeable but also adaptable. Institutions can leverage AI programs to foster a culture of lifelong learning amongst staff and alumni, encouraging them to continuously update their skills and stay abreast of emerging technologies. This not only helps campus communities in navigating the dynamic landscape of the modern workforce, but also provides an untapped enrollment opportunity.

Conclusion

As university presidents and provosts, the responsibility to prepare students for the future is paramount and ensures the longevity of your institution. The integration of an undergraduate AI program is a strategic, forward-thinking initiative that addresses market demand, drives innovation, and positions institutions as leaders in technological education. By acting now, you can ensure that your institution remains at the cutting edge of academia, students are equipped for success, and society benefits from the transformative potential of AI. The future is now, and it is time to embrace it with bold and visionary educational programs.

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