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Monday, September 21, 2015

GIS Educational Providers: Join the Conversation About GIS Jobs!

Put Your GIS Jobs Where Your Mouth Is!

Image by Lumaxart @www.lumaxart.com/ under CC-BY-SA
I suspect all the educational offerings in the United States related to GIS or geospatial technology highlight the field's hot job market. The University of Southern California does. I saw a post (ad?) for its program in a (closed) LinkedIn group. It reads, in part:
Map Out Your Career in a Booming Industry

Did you know that the geospatial services industry provides jobs for an estimated 500,000 people and generates almost $75 billion in revenue each year?*
Several commenters to the post (ad?) noted respect for the program but asked where the jobs were. This is a common concern aired on social media across the Web. Those who raise it argue that one, or several, or all academic GIS programs:

  • fail to provide students enough job leads/job help
  • crank out too many people in the industry
  • do not teach what is needed to get a (good/longterm) job
  • market based on jobs that do not exist

Similar Allegations?

If you follow education, you might think some of these allegations sound familiar. In the last few years a number of for-profit colleges have been accused and found guilty of less than honorable marketing practices. Corinthian College, for one, faked its placement rates, among other things.

I don't think the allegations suggested above are parallel. In fact, the only for-profit of which I'm aware that had a GIS program, shut it down to focus on other areas. 

In the meantime, more GIS certificate and degree programs, both residence and online, are appearing up everyday. David DiBiase suggests we'll have a dozen bachelor in GIS degree programs in the next ten years. No, it sounds to me like more schools teaching GIS simply means more feet on the street looking for jobs.

Avoiding Sour Grapes

How can GIS programs, including USC's, set realistic expectations for their potential students? Some things I'd love to see shared in program marketing materials:
  • Career services for students in GIS/geospatial programs - with a focus on those beyond the generic school resources
  • Placement rates - some defined measure of students that gain GIS employment with each credential
  • Special relationships with employers - any internship, COOP, or other arrangements with local or national employers in GIS
  • How and how often the curriculum is updated - is there an advisory board? does the credential link to the GTCM? GI&T BOK? GEOINT Body of Knowledge?
  • Details on the number/geography of each credential conferred for recent cohorts
  • Program's understanding of the local job market - this would be especially meaningful for in- residence students

Until GIS programs provide these and related data prominently on their websites, I suggest potential students ask about these topics.

And, finally, a suggestion for the USC GIS program marketing staffers and their peers: Keep an eye on how people react to your program on social media. This LinkedIn conversation would be a great place to engage potential students and share information about your program! I should note that Pearson aids USC on its GIS education marketing, so perhaps I should be inviting Pearson to participate, too.


  1. Interesting proposal. For-profits, like Capella, are members of the Quality Matters that provides some transparency about a member's efficacy. It would be good to contract a 3rd party broker, like Jobs for the Future, to determine meaningful employment metrics and then measure them by discipline. Not just GIS, but the full range of majors.

  2. Hi,

    Love your blog! This is a great post!

    Just wanted to say that we are addressing a lot of these online program shortcomings, or at least attempting to, with our brand new professional online Masters in GIS Programming and Web Mapping at UW-Madison (starting Fall 2016).

    For example, we are part of Quality Matters. We are working extensively with Ph.D.s in Instructional Design to reinvent our classes for online delivery.

    We are also very proud of our Life-Long Education plan. We are going to offer lab upgrades for life... so as the technology changes, former students can receive access to new lab materials and new digital badges.

    Our eight courses focus on GIS programming and mobile GIS tool creation, because quite frankly, that's what the job market wants and needs. We are confident our student job placement will prove this once our first class graduates.

    Finally, our curriculum is reviewed and updated annually based on student feedback and expert knowledge of changes in the field.

    We're really excited to re{invent online GIS education. If you have any questions about our program or would like to know more, please don't hesitate to ask! I'm also happy to participate in any discussions about online GIS education.

    Thanks, Adena!


    Ian Muehlenhaus


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