Growing programs at Southeast Missouri State University reflect job market demands

Southeast Missouri State University computer science student Graydon Haley-LeDure edits a line of code during a lab in this 2018 photo at Dempster Hall in Cape Girardeau.
Southeast Missourian file

It’s safe to say COVID-19 changed everything. Within the last three years, the job market has shifted substantially to adjust to the needs of our post-pandemic world.

For example, when workplaces and schools shifted to remote work, this showed the importance of technical expertise. Computer science jobs exploded as a result, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor predicting a 25% increase in job opportunties within the next 8 years. The amount of job openings overall has also changed. In June 2023, a reported 9.6 million job openings were available in the United States, a huge increase from the 5.9 million reported in June 2020.

With this changing workforce, students are adapting their choice of undergraduate major to reflect the needs and interests of the U.S. economy. Data from Southeast Missouri State University between 2019 and 2022 depicts many programs as having increased growth in enrollment and high numbers of enrolled students.

Fastest Growing Programs

Currently, the fastest growing undergraduate programs include:

Physical education - 38% increase

Sports management - 29% increase

Computer science - 25% increase

Health science - 24% increase

Cybersecurity - 21% increase

Director of career services Dan Presson said with the current dire need for teachers, he isn’t surprised that physical education is one of the fastest growing programs. Presson said the program certifies students to teach grades K-12, which provides flexibility for job opportunities.

Sports managment is a program at SEMO that offers students training in both community and business relations in the field of sports. Students learn management, communication and legal skills, providing them with a professional basis that they can transform into a major league or minor league career.

Rob Gilligan, president and CEO of the Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce, said programs like sports management tend to grow due to them being positively talked about by students on campus.

“With a great background and history and the opportunities that both physical education and sports management here at SEMO offer, it kind of makes sense that it’s attracting a larger opportunity for students,” Gilligan said.

Presson said it’s not surprising that programs relating to computer science and cybersecurity are growing quickly, as most of what we do on a day-to-day basis is in the digital world. In 2022, there was a reported worldwide need of 3.4 million cybersecurity workers, which provides a lucrative market for graduating students.

Computer science reflects a similar growth to cybersecurity. As noted before, there is an expected 25% increase in job opportunities over the next eight years. Students may also be drawn to the expected salary for this field, as the median salary is approximately $109,000.

Gilligan said many businesses outside of the technology world in Southeast Missouri are looking into hiring cybersecurity professionals due to a rising need for online security.

Largest Programs

The largest undergraduate programs include:

Business administration -

497 students enrolled

Psychology - 462 students enrolled

Nursing - 451 students enrolled

Biology - 412 students enrolled

Agricultural business -

286 students enrolled

Southeast Missouri State University’s business administration program provides students with “broad-based business knowledge” that can prepare students for work in any realm of business they wish to enter. This provides options for students to pursue a wide range of job opportunities, while still providing them the optimal skills to obtain those jobs.

Gilligan said business administration students move into a wide variety of careers, including those in office and corporate spaces, finance, banking and sales.

Similarly, both the nursing and biology programs at SEMO offer a wide variety of skill sets. The large enrollment reflects a national need for health care workers. By 2026, there may be a shortage of more than 4 million healthcare workers, according to Oracle. With current health care industry trends, more than 200,000 nurses will need to be hired each year, also providing a large pool for SEMO students to obtain jobs.

“You have a really interesting little slice of the world in that largest majors [list], because it shows that people like flexibility within their program, but then it also shows those general skills that are needed within the workforce,” Presson said.

In terms of local need, the Southeast Missouri region has a large agricultural presence, and SEMO provides students interested in agriculture hands-on experience through the university farm and horticultural incubator lab.

It’s also not surprising that nursing and biology are popular majors, considering Cape Girardeau is home to two of the largest regional hospitals — SoutheastHEALTH, soon to be known as Mercy Southeast, and Saint Francis Healthcare System. Psychology also has a large draw for SEMO students, as it both opens a path for graduate school and has a lucrative, competitive field present in the area.

“One of the biggest areas of need in rural America is in spaces of mental health, and so whether that is through using psychology to go into a clinical background, or going into a service type background, [students] can stay right here in Cape Girardeau or Southeast Missouri and find great career opportunities,” Gilligan said.

What this means for Southeast Missouri’s future

According to the Missouri Economic Research Center, health care and social assistance is the largest industry in the Southeast region, but it’s likely this could change as time goes on and broadband access becomes more widespread.

While a list of the fastest growing and largest majors isn’t a representation of all students at SEMO, it provides insight into what is needed now in the workforce, and what will be needed in the future. As fields like computer science and cybersecurity blossom as new necessities, common needs such as nursing and psychology stay consistently popular in college students’ studies.