Nashville has been getting national attention lately for its reputation as a "brain magnet" – and for good reason. More than 60 percent of college students in the 10-county area stay in metropolitan Nashville upon graduation.
The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce would like that number to be even higher, so the organization is working collaboratively with the region's 18 universities and colleges to make sure students are exposed to curriculum and career training that meet the needs of local employers.
“The Chamber has formed close relationships with faculty members who meet with us in workforce study sessions to see how college output is matching business needs,” says Rebecca Leslie, Nashville chamber vice president of talent development.
Industry-Focused Degrees, Training
Nearly all of the colleges and universities in the metro area offer innovative academic programs designed to prepare students for the region's top industries and job market. Vanderbilt University's School of Medicine recently revamped its curriculum to better equip future physicians for rapid changes in the health-care industry, and the university is also offering a new doctorate in educational neuroscience.
Lipscomb University, which recently opened a newly accredited pharmacy school, offers master’s degrees in sustainability, health-care informatics and information security, while its School of Professional Studies is working with local industries to design new degrees.
“We are creating new degrees that respond to workforce development challenges,” says Charla Long, School of Professional Studies dean at Lipscomb. “If a Nashville-area company knows it will soon need more employees, we work with that company to put together an education program to train employees specifically in what the company is seeking.”
An Assessment Center opened on Lipscomb's campus in January 2013, Long says, so the university can meet with companies from a range of industries to develop customized programs to help them train future employees for jobs.
“For example, we recently worked with 40 administrators from a large nursing home company to formulate an academic program that addresses the many changing aspects of the aging services industry,” Long says. “That customized program has given the administrators updated skills they needed to better position their company in the future.”
Other local colleges working closely with industries to meet workforce needs include Austin Peay State University, which designed a new chemical engineering technology degree to train workers for the Hemlock Semiconductor plant opening in Clarksville, and Trevecca Nazarene University, which debuted a new bachelor’s degree in health-care IT in fall 2012. Meharry Medical College is constructing a state-of-the-art simulation and clinical skills center to educate aspiring physicians, and Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro is building a $127 million science building to address the local need for more college graduates in high-tech STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) jobs.
Focus on Digital Media, Publishing
Best known for its music programs, Belmont University, home to a newly accredited pharmacy school, now offers an MBA for health-care professionals as well as an expanded curriculum for digital media.
“We actually have a vision for 2015 that we want to be Nashville's university with all of our academic efforts going toward what is good for this city,” says Thomas Burns, provost at Belmont University.
A growing niche in the region's billion-dollar health-care industry prompted the university to introduce a doctorate in nursing practice, Burns says.
“Studies show that today’s hospitals – especially in the Nashville metropolitan area – want their top nurses to have doctorates rather than master’s degrees in nursing practice,” he says.
And because Nashville is second only to New York City in publishing, Belmont is planning to launch a four-year bachelor’s degree in publishing for the fall of 2013.
“It will include all phases – books, magazines, digital – with no other university in America offering such a program on the undergraduate level,” Burns says. “Belmont will also introduce a four-year bachelor’s degree in motion pictures beginning in the fall of 2013, focusing on videography and the behind-the-scenes aspect of the industry. It will be important to the rapidly emerging feature film industry in Nashville."