From Certificate to Online Master’s: UMD’s Unique Approach to Addressing the Need for Quality Product Management Education
Learn how the University of Maryland’s success with its Professional Certificate in Product Management inspired the launch of a new, competitively priced online Master of Professional Studies in Product Management to meet both learner and industry demand.
Did you know that product management is one of the fastest-growing fields in the U.S.? Glassdoor ranks it a top 10 “Best Job in America for 2022” with a median base salary of $125,317, while LinkedIn has seen a 24% annual growth in openings for product management roles. As popular as the field has become, there remains a scarcity of quality education options for learning how to become a product manager in comparison to other business and technology careers.
Two years ago, in partnership with edX, the University of Maryland (UMD) A. James Clark School of Engineering decided to address this demand for educational opportunity with the launch of its online Professional Certificate in Product Management. The certificate program proved so popular—with over 73,000 unique learners since May 2020—that UMD was inspired to follow that success with the recent announcement of a competitively priced Master of Professional Studies (MPS) in Product Management, one of the first fully online graduate degrees in the field from an accredited nonprofit academic institution.
“Historically with product management, it's been very much an apprentice approach,” says James V. Green, co-founder and director of the MPS in Product Management at UMD. “People would be working in another role—developer, designer, engineer, marketing manager, etc.—and observe and engage with product managers hoping to become one themselves. At UMD, we felt there was a much better and more targeted way to help individuals get educated and establish a career in product management. edX’s effectiveness in helping UMD create and scale our professional certificate led us to want to further serve these learners—as well as new learners worldwide—with a more robust, comprehensive, and affordable degree-based experience.”
The Need for a Master’s Program—and Why Product Managers Are in High Demand
UMD moved forward with developing an MPS in Product Management after seeing a clear gap in the field that professionals often can't fill with a certificate or by trying to upskill on their own. The program will enable a new generation to meet the incredible job market demand for product managers.
“Product managers are leaders and require experience in truly understanding customers, designing and building great products, and influencing business stakeholders,” Green says. “That experience is ultimately hard to get on the job. You need classrooms—whether virtual and/or in-person—to simulate the challenges, along with experienced instructors to guide you through them. Understanding the established standards is important, but you also need to know how to push beyond the notion of ‘that’s just how it's done around here.’ Professional certificates work for those in strong product companies and help those thrown into the role, but we see many who aspire to be product managers or know they’re missing a truly comprehensive ‘product’ education.”
In today’s economy, product managers are in high demand. Products of all kinds—whether physical, digital, experiential, etc.—are often more complicated and interdisciplinary to build or enhance, and the timeline required for companies to competitively bring their products to market is constantly accelerating. Companies have awoken to the critical need for product managers who can not only help create products that customers love but also integrate all the aspects of the product development and execution process in efficient and effective ways.
“Whether they’re helping to create a new product or improve an existing one, product managers are the internal champions of that product,” Green explains. “They’re the ones conducting the orchestra, but using tools like collaboration and negotiation instead of command and control. What used to happen in business—and arguably what still happens in less agile teams—is that the product engineers would build something and then give it to the sales team to go sell it. But the sales team would find it’s not exactly what the customer wants or what they’d be willing to pay for it. Rather than perpetuate this stove-piped system, product managers are now called upon to connect these disparate elements at the very beginning of the product life cycle and shepherd them through the entire process.”
A Venn Diagram is the most common visualization for what a product manager does, says Green, positioning them centrally at the intersection of three key areas: the technology used to design and engineer a product, the company’s business needs in relation to the product, and the customer’s experience and satisfaction with it. “There’s a ton of demand for professionals who can bring together and manage all of these areas well,” Green asserts. “And beyond the competitive salaries that can come with the role, many people find product management to be a rewarding career because of the great variety. They get to wear many different hats.”
Flexible and Accessible with Broad Appeal: How UMD’s Online MPS Stands Out
With its fully online and predominantly asynchronous format, UMD’s MPS in Product Management program can be completed at a learner’s own pace in as little as 15 months, making it ideal for busy professionals juggling work and life demands. And with the degree’s broad appeal and tuition set at $25,000, UMD expects to attract learners from a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences from across the globe.
“Affordability is important for UMD to maximize everyone’s opportunity to learn and succeed in this career path,” Green says. “Lifelong learning is increasingly becoming a requirement to maintain and advance your career. And learners today are well-served by educational opportunities that are flexible, affordable, and accessible. That characterizes our new MPS offering to a tee—an online, self-paced, asynchronous format that blends theory and practice with a ‘just-in-time’ learning experience.”
By adding the MPS program to its professional certificate program and individual course offerings, UMD now gives learners everywhere even more ways to learn about the fast-growing field of product management so that it fits their life, budget, and professional goals.
Green points to two facets of the online MPS program that make it even more unique. First, the degree is offered through UMD’s engineering school, which is ranked 12th in U.S. online engineering programs. “With its foundation in the engineering school, I think learners will come away with more of a technology edge in the discipline, as well as a hands-on, learn-by-doing approach,” Green says. “The program is an intelligent balance of theory and practice—and what product managers can expect to experience in the real world.”
Second, the curriculum incorporates faculty from both UMD’s Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute (Mtech), for which Green is the managing director of learning and development, and the university’s Project Management Center for Excellence. “The degree is the marriage of these two well-regarded entities on campus,” Green says, “which lets us bring together a compelling range of topics on entrepreneurship, innovation, project management, and engineering leadership. The content will enable students to start practicing what they’re learning immediately. As we explore why a concept is important, we’ll also discuss how to apply it and which best-in-class tools are available.”
Meeting Learner and Industry Needs with a Unique Balance of Theory and Practice
Seeing it as an exciting leap forward in meeting both learner and industry demand, Green is eager for all the possibilities in store with UMD’s new online MPS in Product Management.
“One audience we anticipate reaching with the online MPS is software developers and engineers who want to maintain proximity to the technology but also broaden their understanding of the business side of product management,” he says. “We also envision business analysts and marketing professionals who want to more directly impact customers by leading technology teams, as well as product designers who focus on the end-user experience but want more influence into the tech and business strategy.”
Of course, the online MPS is also a great fit for active product managers seeking to enhance their capabilities and accelerate their growth to become truly world-class in their field.
“I think the scope of what we’re doing with edX and the full breadth of product management really makes our program stand out,” Green says. “We’re committed to the industry applicability of all of our offerings—and the online MPS gives learners a great opportunity to integrate design, functionality, and business solutions into a fulfilling product management career.”
Related Content: Partner Impact