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It is what a comedian must have when delivering the punch line, what a batter displays as he connects with the ball and it is a very important factor in the offering of new academic programs. Timing is key to all these endeavours.

Last week a colleague at an academic meeting pointed out the obvious; that demand for new degrees in health, health care administration and related areas are likely to go “through the roof.”  As far as labor economists can see, in the near term –5 to 10 years—, there are no other areas of growth in employment and training that would compare.

The new national health bill promises to  “reduce the deficit by $143 billion over the first ten years” while “expanding coverage to 32 million more Americans.” That neat trick is supposed to be accomplished largely through the re-organization of health care delivery and the improvement of health care communications. Strangely, this leads to a need for more people in the near term.

This new demand will come on top of what is already an overheated demand market in health care. In March, the latest month for which unemployment data are available, advertised vacancies for healthcare practitioners or technical occupations that support it outnumbered the unemployed looking for work in this field by 4 to 1, and the average wage in these occupations is $32.64/hour. In the category of health management the ratio of jobs to people looking for them is 8 to 1.

The supply of trained professionals in health care is globally sourced. The big change is taking place in the U.S. but thousands of jobs will go to Canadians, Europeans, Indians and Filipinos. They have more experience and our jobs are more attractive. But that will leave thousands of jobs that must be filled by Americans who will be trained by the timely academic programs my colleague predicted would come about.

Who will be those students that will enroll in new Associates, Bachelors and Masters of Nursing, Health Education, Health Management, Health Care Management,  etc? There will definitely be some full time typical students, but at the graduate level at least, those students would (and should) come from the health care ranks. They would, of course, be employed and since hospitals run 24 hours a day, their schedules are not likely to be 8 to 5. So how should Traditional Universities serve these clients?

If you are going to take advantage of the timing of this market change and expand or create new degrees now, you should consider carefully how to use the student’s time in teaching them your curriculum. Mr. Jose Cruz, Vice President for Information Services and Planning at one of the nation’s fastest growing community college, made a very insightfull observation in response to the last blog: “The conveniences of today’s time strategies adopted by CUs (shorter periods, clustered periods, open-entry-open-exit periods, etc.) are powerful because of their contribution to a greater sense of control that attracts today’s choosey, market-savvy consumer. The message from CUs is only superficially, “we have convenient times for you”. The real message, when time is clustered with all of the other strategies adopted by CUs, is, “you are in control of your time (and education). You call the shots.”

Undoubtedly a great number of TUs will be responding to the market demands posed by the new health care growth but (particularly those who will be simply expanding current programs) are likely to ignore that the competitive advantage is not just timing, it is also the choice they give students for the use of their time.