August 2011

Community colleges are establishing project management curriculum to increase graduates’ employability and earning prospects, and to meet industry’s growing demand.

Today, there are many community colleges in the United States that are actively considering integrating project management modules into their curricula. But this area of study is relatively new. In fact, the first academic program in this field debuted at Western Carolina University (WCU) in the late 1970s, and took until a few years ago to be taken up at the community college level.

WCU launched the program within its business school, targeting practicing project managers who wanted a formal education to enhance their practical experience. Since then, project management programs have proliferated at top universities worldwide, including Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China (one of 104 Chinese institutions offering such programs), France’s SKEMA Business School, Germany’s Landshut University of Applied Sciences, as well as a host of U.S. universities, such as Boston University and the University of Maryland.

These programs, housed within business schools and, occasionally, in engineering or other departments, have been extremely successful and grown rapidly since the early 1990s, as globalization and the formalization of project management best practices spurred demand for this skill set.

“There was a change about 10 years ago when more and more businesses began to see projects as a way of doing their business,” says John Kelly, director of the Centre for Project Management at the University of Limerick’s Kemmy Business School, Limerick, Ireland. “There is no business that can say that they do not do projects now, and our program has had to shift with that.”

Worldwide, 3,300 schools currently teach project management courses, and approximately 660 institutions offer a project management degree or certificate program, according to preliminary results of an ongoing global census of schools by the Project Management Institute (PMI), the largest project management association.

The motives that spur universities to develop project management curricula and launch formal programs—increasing the employability and earnings potential of their graduates, and meeting industry’s growing demand for skilled project managers—has likewise spurred many community colleges to do the same.

Flexible Options
Edmonds Community College, in Lynnwood, WA, a 20,000-student college, has a certificate program within its Business Management Program. Full-time and part-time students, as well as those seeking courses online, can pursue the certificate, allowing working project managers to brush up or build their skills. Edmonds students can specialize in Event Planning, Business Information Management, Database Theory and Design, or systems analysis.

Macomb Community College, in eastern Michigan, takes another approach, offering an associate of business administration in project management. The program requires a combination of classes in statistical quality control, organizational behavior and team development, and management decision-making.

Many community colleges base their programs on PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) principles. This is a resource detailing best practices in project management, updated from time to time to reflect new insights gained through the project experience of PMI’s membership.

While community colleges attract individuals with real-world experience, the classroom experience is critical to improving their skills. Community college fee structures are also attractive to those who do not work for companies that provide training. The average per-student cost of in-house training is in line with many community college offerings. Organizations that wish to outsource training to community colleges get a number of other advantages, including the opportunity for employees to share ideas and experiences with individuals in other industries.

The project management curriculum can dovetail with any number of functional specializations. An Anderson Economic Group study found that project management is now used in more than 85 occupations across a wide swath of functions and industries.

As of 2006, these employed 7.8 million people in the U.S., or 5.63 percent of all wage and salary employment. And in 2009, US News and World Report ranked project management as the third-most valued skill by employers, behind only leadership/negotiation skills and business analysis.

This is reflected in paychecks. Despite the troubled economy, organizations are willing to pay a premium for well-honed project management skills. More than 50 percent of the 34,800-plus project management practitioners from around the globe who participated in the sixth edition of the PMI® Project Management Salary Survey reported their compensation had increased over the previous 12 months. According to the report, released in April 2010, the median annualized salary across all countries, roles, and experience levels was $90,260; and approximately 75 percent of respondents earned at least $67,200.

There are even potential opportunities within government, despite the seemingly endless rounds of budget cuts. In fact, a study conducted by PMI and the Office of Management and Budget found that Federal government agencies could reduce costs by 20 to 30 percent by implementing project and program management best practices. This skill could stand employees in good stead in a time of fiscal austerity.

An Unmet Demand
Those with project management skills have largely escaped the effects of the economic troubles and high unemployment, which has made it particularly difficult for college graduates to find jobs. Despite the poor employment outlook in most sectors, graduates with project management skills are in demand, making those skills a valuable commodity for community colleges to offer.

Specifically, a recent study by the Anderson Economic Group indicated that there would be about 12 million new jobs in project-oriented occupations created over the next decade. And the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2008 Global Executive Survey indicated that project professionals are considered the single most important management job category.

“To assess the viability of a project management degree program, we conducted a market analysis,” says Mary Dobransky, dean of Bellevue College of Information Technology, Bellevue University (NE). “The results of the analysis showed excellent job prospects for project managers and an increase in the demand for project management education across multiple industries.”

There are not enough project professionals to fill all the jobs. A U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics survey reported that in many industries, the need for project managers would grow faster than the average for all other occupations combined. And IT research firm Gartner Inc. reported that not only was project management the number one hiring priority of select companies it surveyed, it also was the most frequently reported as “difficult to hire.”

Community colleges seeking to establish programs to meet the demand for project management expertise in their graduates can consult the PMI Global Accreditation Center for Project Management Education Programs (GAC) academic accreditation program for guidelines on learning outcomes and the PMBOK® Guide to ascertain what skills need to be taught.
With demand for project management skills on the rise, community colleges can help their graduates find gainful employment with truly value-added skills and bridge the project management professional hiring gap.

For more information, please contact PMI Academic Relations.