Nationally, student demand for Mental Health Programs is rising. Last year, inquiries and Google searches for the program both rose over 12%, while program completions rose 10%. Competition remains manageable in this field, with only 210 schools offering the program in the U.S. Among the competitors, distance education providers appear to be taking share; only 8% of schools offering this program are online, but they produce 25% of the graduates. On the employment front, there were over 16,000 related job postings last year and 9% average annual growth in employment. Unfortunately, earnings are low; according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 10th percentile wage is just $30,000 for a field in which over 45% of employees have a graduate degree.
Google searches fell over 10% for two education degrees and two science programs. Other fields where student demand fell in December included higher education programs in Advertising, Fashion-Merchandising, and Commercial Art. We were surprised to see a drop in searches for Computer Programming degrees, which fell 21%. This is the only sign we have seen of falling interest in software programming education.
2018 got off to a slow start for Google searches for higher education programs. Search volume dropped from January through June, before a second-half turnaround. Starting in July, Google searches for higher education programs rose every month, finishing strong with 8% growth in December.
Health Services and Mental Health Counseling programs both had a surge in December inquiries from prospective students, which rose 100% or more. These two programs had the highest inquiry growth of any of the 75 largest programs that Gray tracks.
Despite mediocre employment opportunities and a crowded market, inquiries for Criminal Justice programs continued their surge, rising 26% in December 2018. In contrast, inquiries for Medical Assistant programs continued a multi-year decline, falling 17%. But, there are over 1.1 million people working as Medical Assistants and the number has grown an average of 4.4% annually for the last three years. There were over 191,000 related job postings in 2018. That is more than 2.8 job postings for every Medical Assisting graduate. We may yet have a shortage in a field that was once very crowded.
Inquiries for on-campus programs have been falling for years but rose in October and November 2018. Sadly, they resumed their fall in December, dropping 6.5%. The worst may still be ahead for on-ground programs.
While some believe that growth in online programs has peaked, the data suggest that the best is yet to come. Inquiry volumes rose almost every month in 2018 for an annual average growth rate of 6.2%. Growth in December beat the average, surging 9%.
Gray tracks inquiries, essentially online forms filled out by potential students interested in higher education programs. Inquiry volume had been dropping, often by double digits, for over five years. 2018 broke the trend. Inquiries increased 1.7% for the year and sprinted to the finish with a 9% rise in December.