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Colleges offer more new, nontraditional choices

There are more options than ever when it comes to passions to pursue in college as well as ways to earn a degree and other credentials.

The most popular areas of study tend to include the same things each year, such as business, nursing, engineering, accounting, education, criminal justice, humanities, biology and trades/personal services.

But for someone who has a more specific idea of what they’d like to do with their education and eventual profession, chances are there’s a program and school out there to meet their needs and help them follow their passion.

At New York Chiropractic College, for example, a new program combines two popular fields of study by offering a nontraditional master’s degree in nutrition and sports. And “nontraditional” is a good way to describe the evolving landscape of higher education.

“This is a trend nationwide,” said Jean-Nicolas Poirier, D.C., Ed.D., Dean of the School of Health Sciences and Education and Director of Academic Services at New York Chiropractic College (NYCC). “Higher education institutions are more and more sensitive to creating programs that meet the needs of students.”

This is accomplished by creating hyper-specialized programs that “increase the breadth of choices” for students, Poitier said, as well as being sensitive to the fact that many students are working while they attend college, among other unconventional manners of earning a degree.

NYCC’s new program that combines sports and nutrition is geared toward students who want to help everyone from high-level athletes or regular people who are active and want to “adapt their diets to optimize their nutrition so their performance can increase,” Poirier said.

“For high level athletes, this can be very scientific process,” he added. “We really go into the weeds in terms of details. Students will also work with general, active people who want to look at weight loss or getting better at running a 5K or preparing for their first half marathon.”

Dr. Peter Nickless, Director of the Applied Clinical Nutrition Program at New York Chiropractic College, said the two paths of sports and nutrition “rarely meet.”

“They don’t really know what to do when confronted with an athlete who may have some kind of medical issue, so we tried to create a program that combines those two things,” Nickless said. “It focuses on clinical application of sports nutrition.”

Some educational institutions have also made it easier for students to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree simultaneously and in a shorter amount of time.

“We have a large number of programs that combine undergraduate and graduate degrees that shorten the amount of time it takes students to earn both degrees,” said Dr. Ann Bisantz, the dean of undergraduate education and a professor in industrial and systems engineering at the University at Buffalo.

Creating a bigger, more diverse array of options to study in college is just one of the ways educational institutions have been changing to appeal to more students.

At the University at Buffalo, new programs were rolled out this academic year that help students get the education they want in a timely fashion as well as earn other ways of showing prospective employers the skills they possess, including the new “micro-credential” program.

A micro-credential is smaller than a minor or certificate but provides students with opportunities “to gain relevant workforce skills without the financial and time commitments of a degree,” according to a UB press release.

Beginning in the fall 2018 semester, UB piloted several micro-credential programs that are themed around skills identified as essential by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, including critical thinking and problem-solving, teamwork and collaboration, intercultural fluency, leadership, professionalism, and oral and written communication.

For example, Bisantz said there’s a micro-credential for career building with languages. Students take some language courses, but then they apply those language skills and take a nationally normed exam to demonstrate they have career-ready competency in that language, which could be useful in trying to get employment with a company that has international partners or to do some work overseas.

“There are new ways for people to complement their traditional majors and educational experiences in a way that’s maybe not as many credits as say doing a double major, minor or other formal academic program,” Bisantz said. “In addition to being smaller packages, they also provide students with these demonstratable competencies and skills.”

Also new to UB is a program that helps students with entrepreneurial skills related to on-campus employment. Students can now get recognized for the skills they learn on the job while in college, including teamwork and collaboration, professionalism and leadership.

“It’s not just a campus job; they’ll be able to demonstrate they’ve got these career-ready skills,” Bisantz said. “Students have lots and lots of options to get skills and experiences to lead them to success, both through the major the students pick and through different kinds of academic credentials.”

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