College AI degree programs are booming. Are they worth the price?

  • With all the buzz surrounding artificial intelligence, more schools are now creating AI-specific degrees.
  • According to, the rise of AI-specific associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s and PhD programs comes at a time when companies lack this skill and half of the highest-paid skills in technology come from AI. It is related.
  • But the data shows that this is not exactly a new phenomenon, AI degree awards have grown rapidly over the past decade, and foundations in computer science, mathematics and engineering fundamentals are important.

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Ute Grabowsky | Photothic | Getty Images

Computer science is not a new major in top schools, but there is a growing list of colleges and universities offering four-year “AI” degrees, especially with AI jobs in high demand.

These programs typically go beyond the basics of computer science to topics such as machine learning, computing algorithms, data analytics, and advanced robotics. The University of Pennsylvania recently announced that its BSE program in artificial intelligence will begin in the fall of 2024. Carnegie Mellon introduced a program before gen AI was a buzzword, in the fall of 2018, and MIT’s program began in the fall of 2022. Purdue University offers an AI undergraduate. major, while many colleges and universities offer AI classes within their computer science departments, even if there is no dedicated major.

The rise of AI-specific degree programs comes as companies face a talent shortage for this fast-growing field. According to employment website, half of the highest-paid skills in technology are related to AI. Yet, given how rapidly technology is changing, there is some skepticism about the applicability of a four-year degree dedicated to AI. But proponents say that as long as a program covers computer science and other fundamentals, a focus on AI can earn resumes.

Here’s what students and their parents, as well as anyone thinking about going back to school for a new career, need to know about a four-year AI degree:

STEM fundamentals are important.

Chief executive Karim Koka said students who want to pursue a degree in AI should look for a program that teaches fundamentals such as computer science concepts, statistics, math and engineering, which are the foundation for a career in an AI-related field. keep of Blue Cloud, a cloud service provider. Technology itself is changing, he said, but the fundamentals don’t, and they can prepare students to succeed even as the underlying technology changes.

“It is important that AI degrees and other educational training programs focus not only on developing specific skills, but also on helping students learn how to learn, including an intellectual curiosity, and leadership, Skills like communication and critical thinking are included.” Maria Flynn, president and chief executive of Jobs for the Future, an organization that focuses on worker opportunity and education, said in an email.

Increase in AI degree since 2011

There are many different programs that focus on AI at the undergraduate and graduate level, and the number of offerings and degrees offered has grown over a decade now.

According to the Georgetown University Center for Security and Emerging Technologies, AI degrees have bucked the general trend in education since 2011, with positive degree-referral growth versus negative growth across all degree fields. AI-related degree awards, in particular, grew faster than STEM degrees as a general category at the bachelors, masters, and PhD levels. Its review of official data and other sources of the higher education market described the growth of AI degrees as “dramatic,” growing 120 percent at both the bachelor’s and master’s levels since 2011.

Some students may also be interested in pursuing an associate degree in AI, which is offered by several schools, including Miami-Dade College.

The relevance of education in a rapidly changing tech market

Some students may wonder if they even need a degree, given how quickly the market is changing and the fact that more employers are willing to hire workers without degrees if they have Have appropriate, job-required skills.

It’s important to note that recent research shows that the practice of hiring people without degrees has declined, however, and research from the Ladders career site shows that degrees for the highest paying jobs. Needed, a list that includes software engineers.

A four-year degree is still a big step for most people entering the job market for the first time, said Celeste Gruppman, chief executive of Datacoast, a provider of AI-related educational materials and labs to universities. “It’s still one of the first things an employer is going to look at. It’s not going to disqualify you, while it has no power.”

Nevertheless, several providers, including Dataquest and Coursera, offer certificate programs to help learners quickly develop skills. Gruppman said these programs may be suitable for students who lack the time and resources to complete a four-year program, or who already have a degree and are looking to upskill. An online platform allows students to quickly start building projects and understand how to successfully apply these tools for employment purposes.

AI vs. Computer Science

It is important for students to think critically about the curriculum of the program they are considering, how it differs from a standard computer science curriculum, the potential career trajectory for program graduates and Economic outcomes of graduates. “As we see in product marketing, anyone can slap ‘AI’ on an existing product. Students should ask what aspects of AI they will be learning,” Flynn said.

It is also important for students to carefully consider what they wish for. Are they looking for a program that provides exposure to AI or practice using AI, or do they want a technical program that provides basic content and courses on AI technology? Flynn said they should also consider whether they ultimately want the relevant skills and knowledge that will get them into the job market now or whether they want a broad degree that will build a foundation for long-term growth.

“If you’re an architect, you don’t need a degree in hammer. You want to understand hammer, you want to understand zoning and you want to understand how to build a house that will support a family. in AI,” said Nicole Bradford, executive-in-residence for artificial intelligence and human intelligence at SHRM, an organization for human resources professionals.

How to get an edge with employers.

David Leighton, chief executive of WITI, an organization for technology-minded professionals, said some employers may look more favorably on an AI-specific degree versus a plain vanilla computer science degree. “I think that separates them.”

On the other hand, no one currently knows what such a degree will be worth in a few years. “In the year 2000, if you had an Internet degree, it would have been pretty cool if there was such a thing,” Koka said. “Now, it wouldn’t be as applicable. But if you had it in 2002, you could get a job anywhere. The same could be true for a degree in AI.”

Given the uncertainty, some professionals say students can’t go wrong with a traditional computer science degree or an AI-specific degree, provided the fundamentals are covered. However, those who take the former route should consider taking classes related to AI and data science, which can be important for future employment. Otherwise, students “may need to close the practical application gap on their own after graduation,” Brian Ackerman, head of AI strategy and transformation at management consultancy Korn Ferry, said in an email.

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