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KNOXVILLE — Researchers from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER) and the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) have completed a report analyzing how well the state’s higher education system is supplying graduates to meet the occupational needs of employers.

The findings show many gaps between supply and demand. The identification of these gaps will allow the higher education system to fine-tune the production of college awards and degrees.

Matt Murray, associate director of CBER, THEC’s executive director Richard Rhoda, and THEC’s chief policy officer David Wright will be available for a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, May 10 at 11 a.m. ET.

The researchers analyzed historical data from 2000 to 2008 to project academic awards for various instructional programs and disciplines for Tennessee’s public, private, and nonprofit institutions through 2018. They then linked the academic award projections on the supply side of the labor market to anticipated job openings by occupation on the demand side of the labor market.

Because many occupations do not require a specific educational award, data were combined into functional groups called career pathways. According to the study’s findings, the most undersupplied career pathways include:

  • programming and software development;
  • marketing;
  • human resources;
  • business financial management and accounting;
  • environmental service systems; and
  • construction.

The fastest-growing instructional programs include health care, business education, and liberal arts. The health care profession holds seven of the top fifteen fastest-growing programs, and fourteen of the top fifty fastest-growing programs. Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs are also expanding, with eight of the top ten STEM fields expected to more than double their number of graduates by 2018.

Instructional programs that are shrinking include general business, management/computer information systems, administration assistant and secretarial science, and journalism. Approximately 360 instructional programs at various award levels are projected to produce zero awards by 2018.

“These findings should be handled with care because statewide trends may not reflect the employment outlook for certain individuals, or even certain counties,” said Rhoda. “Another caution is that past job growth is not always predictive of the future. Even so, this study is important because it sends broad signals about the way things are headed, to the best of our knowledge. It should prove useful at all levels of campus life across the state, from institutional leaders who decide which academic programs to offer, to academic advisors and career counselors who work directly with students.”

The research presented in the report is intended to support institutional planning in Tennessee. It provides critical information as the state seeks to overhaul its education system with the passage of several important, education-related initiatives such as the Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010 and the receipt of the large federal Race to the Top grant. While the state’s public higher education institutions have historically been funded largely on enrollment, a new outcomes-based funding formula will place greater emphasis on retention and graduation.

“The initiatives that Tennessee is embarking on offer the potential to fundamentally transform the state’s educational pipeline to the betterment of state residents and the state economy,” said Murray. “These projections can be utilized by education policy makers at virtually all levels in Tennessee, from the legislative and executive branches down to the level of an academic award-producing unit.”

NOTE: Reporters wishing to participate in the conference call can call 1-866-531-9321 toll-free and enter the PIN number 5477.

To read the full report, visit http://cber.bus.utk.edu/.


Matt Murray, (865-974-6084, mmurray1@utk.edu)

Whitney Holmes, (865-974-5460, wholmes7@utk.edu)

David Wright (615-532-3862, david.l.wright@tn.gov)