Three proposed graduate degree programs at public universities, each aiming to educate students for high-demand fields, were approved Tuesday by a Board of Higher Education committee.
Members of the Academic Affairs Committee unanimously gave the green light to the creation of a master of science degree in physician assistant studies at Westfield State University, and doctorate programs in computational sciences and integrative biosciences at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
Westfield State's physician assistant program would train students to work as medical providers in collaboration with doctors. It would be the public graduate program for physician assistants in Massachusetts and would help meet demand from employers and students, school officials said.
"The need is beyond need," said physician assistant and educator Jennifer Hixon, who Westfield State has hired to lead the program. "It is desperate. We are filling that primary care gap, and really that specialty care gap in our region."
The computational sciences doctorate at UMass Boston would provide training in mathematics and computer science, lining up students for positions in the growth industry of computation and "big data," according to the school. At full capacity, the program would have room for 20 students.
Committee member Robert Johnson, the president of Becker College and a Gov. Charlie Baker appointee to the Board of Higher Education, asked how the program would enhance UMass Boston's ability to attract research money, "given that big data is projected to be a multi-trillion dollar industry" in coming years.
"That's a very important reason for the creation of this program," provost Winston Langley said, pointing to areas like big data and cybersecurity as research capabilities that officials believe are key to the university's future.
Under the integrative biosciences program, UMass Boston Ph.D students would produce independent research and apply interdisciplinary approaches to solving problems in biochemistry, biophysics and bioinformatics.
The committee also approved a proposed life sciences associate degree at Bristol Community College and an associate in engineering, technology and advanced manufacturing at Cape Cod Community College.