Expanding Access to Business Education

Gies College of Business uses data-driven strategy to guide program growth and development

Published on Feb 8, 2024


  • In this guest post, Chera LaForge of the University of Illinois' Gies College of Business explains how the college used Lightcast data to tackle two major projects: creating graduate certificates, and expanding their undergraduate business minor.

  • When creating their new graduate certificates, Gies staff first used labor market data to assess the demand for each new certificate. They then used that information to 1) build a marketing campaign that highlighted the opportunities each certificate could lead to, and 2) inform scripts for webinars that could help drive recruitment. 

  • For their second project (expanding an innovative undergraduate business minor for non-business majors), the Gies team used Lightcast job postings data to assess the relevancy of their curricula, and to serve as a resource for faculty as they determined which business skills were most essential for students majoring in unrelated fields.

  • With this data-backed approach to growth, Gies was able to validate market demand for their new academic expansions, inform their marketing efforts, and provide a foundation for rich conversations with faculty around course content and design.

Gies College of Business recently undertook two projects that made extensive use of Lightcast data — creating new graduate certificates and expanding an undergraduate business minor. In her own words, Chera LaForge explains how their recent work with Lightcast came to fruition.

Developing New Graduate Certificates

Gies College of Business is always looking for ways to build innovative programs that expand access to business education. As part of that focus, one of our commitments is to offer a variety of credentials that give learners options for how to complete their education. One of our newest products is our graduate certificates. Not only are they new to Gies, but they are also new to the University of Illinois.

As with any new product, we had to consider how to market graduate certificates and communicate their value to learners. That meant providing information to Admissions & Recruiting, our partners at Coursera, Marketing & Communications, and our Student and Academic Success team.

We felt that graduate certificates could benefit both learners looking to upskill in their current roles, as well as reskill to move from one field to another. With that in mind, it was important to consider how the skills we taught in each of the graduate certificates matched with careers in the field. Additionally, we wanted to provide useful information about the occupations and job titles a certificate graduate could pursue. 

There were three waves of work that went into creating resources for our internal teams:

1) Collecting relevant labor market information

The first was to provide general labor market information for each of our graduate certificates, based on common occupations a) tied to the program’s CIP code, b) identified by faculty leaders, or c) reflective of the common backgrounds of our degree students who complete the same set of courses. We created a central document that includes labor market demand for each of the graduate certificates, which was generated using job posting data from Analyst. This includes information like the number of job postings, median advertised wage, wage growth, top advertised industries, and top occupations and job titles.

Analyst was also used to identify related Gies certificates and degrees a learner might be interested in pursuing. For instance, we offer a Financial Management Graduate Certificate, which introduces students to financial accounting, investments, and corporate finance. Our analysis in Lightcast found that many of the postings asked for an MBA, and students can stack their graduate certificate into that program. Likewise, Masters qualified positions increased the median advertised salary of positions, so learners might also be interested in pursuing our master’s in accounting.

Example of the Job Posting Analytics report in Analyst

2) Mapping out career pathways

We worked with our Marketing and Communications team to build an online marketing campaign using Career Pathways. Focusing on learners who might be interested in upskilling, we gathered data on common career paths and skills gaps between the two positions.

For instance, we started with the feeder occupation of a Marketing Assistant/Associate and examined what it would take to become a Digital Marketing Specialist. We confirmed that our Digital Marketing Graduate Certificate taught the skills needed to upskill into that new role. Once that was done, we looked at Job Posting Analytics for both the feeder and aspirational occupation and began to identify a number of potential titles and geographic locations we could target with marketing.

This summer, we ran a small test of this and found that the targeted marketing resulted in a higher click-through rate than our typical marketing. We’re hoping to rerun this campaign closer to an admissions deadline to see if it has an impact on conversions.

Example of the Career Pathways report in Analyst

3) Scripting webinars to drive enrollment

We used all of this research to script out graduate certificate webinars that run through all our normal recruiting and marketing mediums. Not only could we preview the curriculum and experience that learners receive from Gies, but we also could show how the certificates could close specific skills gaps a learner might have.

For our Value Chain Management Graduate Certificate, for instance, we created a persona of Michael, who has worked as an IT Analyst but was recently promoted to IT Director. Based on Lightcast data, we know that an IT Analyst was likely to have technical skills in data analysis and SQL, but an IT Director needed to be able to understand business strategies, marketing, and business processes. We could then show how Michael would gain those skills by completing the graduate certificate.

Without access to Lightcast data, we wouldn’t have been able to provide this rich context to internal partners and our potential learners.

Video overview of the Value Chain Management Certificate from Gies College of Business

Expanding the Undergraduate Business Minor

Gies is committed to expanding access to undergraduate business education and has done that by running a very popular Business Minor for Non-Business Majors since 2004. In 2018, the minor became open enrollment; now, approximately 1800 students are enrolled in the minor in any given semester with almost 5000 graduates. Recently, Gies received internal funding to continue to expand our undergraduate business offerings and increase capacity in the minor, all while creating consistency within (and across) business minor coursework, enhancing opportunities to engage with faculty and classmates, and providing higher-quality experiences for students enrolled in the business minor.

A natural starting point in scaling the business minor was to focus on intentional consistency and alignment within the core course offerings, given that every business minor student is required to complete those courses. Our initial goal was to focus on what is being taught across sections, ensuring a more unified curriculum of core concepts that gave learners the best experience possible and prepared them for future coursework, graduate study, or professional work in the field.

We engaged in a detailed review of the curriculum of each of the core offerings, comparing sections of the same course and benchmarking them against peer, aspirant, and competitor offerings of the same type. This helped us to identify a set of findings and recommendations that faculty could use as they worked with our Teaching and Learning team to redesign their courses. 

Business minor page from the online course catalog

However, providing these recommendations without determining their benefit to students would have been unwise. To support our recommendations, we turned to Lightcast’s occupation and job posting data. For instance, our research on our Management and Organizational Behavior course recommended that coverage of both Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Ethical Decision-Making be expanded across all sections of the course. We supported that recommendation by reporting the number of job postings that requested skills in each area and the industries where they were in demand. We could also highlight how many profiles did not report skills in the area, ensuring that students would see a boost from having covered the topic. 

Example of the Job Posting Analytics report in Analyst

Ultimately, faculty are the final content matter experts and have freedom in how they discuss the subjects they teach. Our work is to support them in building the best course possible and we have to consider how best to present the research we conduct. Having Lightcast data available to provide evidence to support our recommendations allows us to have better, richer conversations with faculty. 

Our faculty have a great handle on the types of careers that our majors go into, but the business minor introduces complications. What skills does a social worker or caseworker need that can be gained through a business minor, for instance? Pairing our internal data about the majors and careers our business minor students pursue with Lightcast data gives faculty more context about who is in their class and the knowledge and skills they need to gain through the minor. 

Each faculty member or faculty team working on one of our core courses now has access to a detailed report that includes our competitor and market research. The course redesigns are all in different places in the build process, but we know that at least one of the courses has worked to incorporate our recommendations into their revised and scalable course.

Thanks to Chera LaForge and the team at Gies for sharing this story with us!

Want to learn more about using Analyst to develop, review, and improve the market-alignment of your academic programs? Let us know! We’d love to learn more about your institution’s projects and priorities, and explain how our data can help.