College students can study anything from accounting to zoology, but there's one discipline that's becoming especially popular.
Construction trades had the largest percentage increase in enrollment at four-year institutions between spring 2016 and spring 2017 – 26.4 percent – according to a recent report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. The nonprofit organization collects and distributes education data.
Construction trades, as defined by the National Center for Education Statistics, include a range of subjects, such as carpentry and management. Many four-year schools offer a bachelor's degree in the latter, and industry experts encourage current and prospective students to consider construction management if they like building things but don't want to get their hands dirty.
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"They’re not learning how to drive a nail or twist wires or dig a hole," says Michael Holland, president of the American Council for Construction Education. "They’re learning how to manage that process from a business perspective."
Industry experts describe construction management as a combination of various disciplines.
"Construction management’s a blend of architecture, business and engineering," says Bill Bender, professor and department chair for construction management at the University of Washington.
Graduates with this degree are prepared to manage people and each part of the construction process, experts say.
"You have to track your budget, and your schedule, and your quality and your safety," says Albert Bleakley, construction management program chairman at Florida Institute of Technology. “You have to manage your subcontractors and your workers.”
Part of the draw to the construction management industry, he says, is that it comes with so much variety. "Every project is unique," he says.
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Students who like to see the physical results of their hard work may also be attracted to the construction industry.
"A lot of the students are drawn because there’s a sense of accomplishment when you’re on a project team and you build something," Bender says.
There were just 7,659 undergrads enrolled in a construction trade major in spring 2016, says Jason DeWitt, a research manager at the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. The number of students seeking a bachelor's degree in this field jumped to almost 10,000 by the following spring.
While these numbers don't compare with fields that attract undergraduates by the millions, such as business – which more than 1.5 million students studied in spring 2017, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center – colleges and universities are increasing their commitment to teaching about construction. There were 60 baccalaureate degree programs for construction management that were accredited by the ACCE in 2006; by the 2015-2016 school year, there were 73 accredited programs.
At University of Washington, which has an accredited program, construction management students take courses in physics, business law and accounting, among other subjects, says Bender.
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Travis Lorenzen, a 2016 graduate of the Florida Institute of Technology who studied construction management, learned about the physical elements that go into creating a building in addition to marketing, leadership and other business-oriented topics.
"We did soil testing, we poured concrete, we did compression tests on concrete," says the 23-year-old, who works in Florida for Walbridge, a construction management firm, as a project coordinator. Also: "We had a geology class where we learned about different types of rocks and soils as well," he says.
Lorenzen's teachers also took him off campus to learn at actual job sites, he says.
He encourages prospective college students who are looking for a school that teaches construction management to consider programs that emphasize hands-on learning.
"Construction is pretty practical based," he says. "You’re not theorizing things."
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