Increased Interest in Cannabis Education Opens New Opportunities for Universities

by | Nov 5, 2021

Written by Jessica McKeil

Jessica McKeil is a cannabis writer and B2B content marketer living in British Columbia, Canada. Her focus on cannabis tech, scientific breakthroughs, and extraction has led to bylines with Cannabis & Tech Today, Terpenes and Testing, Analytical Cannabis, and Grow Mag among others. She is the owner and lead-writer of Sea to Sky Content, which provides content and strategy to the industry’s biggest brands.

Across Canada and the US, there is an increasing number of legitimate courses, diplomas, and even graduate degrees covering the cannabis sector. What was once taboo among academics is now in vogue.

Universities and colleges are putting together programs, certificates, and curriculums to meet the cannabis jobs market. But, these institutions are likely also seeking to reap the financial benefits of a cash-flush industry.

As everyone sets their sights on the cannabis sector, new educational opportunities are opening up. But are they worth it?

Cannabis Courses Added into Broader Programs

Generally speaking, most institutions add supplemental cannabis-related courses within broader degree programs instead of full-time cannabis studies (there are a few exceptions, which we'll get to below).

For example, the University of Denver has offered “Cannabis Journalism: Reporting On America's New Normal” in years past. According to the brief, “Not only will we be investigating the scope of the marijuana legalization movement and the political and practical intricacies, but we also will be presenting a project with original data and multimedia designed to promote digital storytelling.”

The University also has several cannabis-related courses within its law program, including “Cannabis Externship Seminar” and “Regulating Cannabis.”

The cost? Unfortunately, there is no readily available information on the price per course within the Sturm College of Law. However, for non-law classes (available for students as a part of a more extensive degree program), the price per course credit hour is $1,490. This means the four-hour credit cannabis journalism course works out to be $5960.

Mount Royal University in Quebec, Canada, is also offering one-off courses, such as “Commercial Cannabis Production,” “Cannabis Marketing in the Retail Sector,” and “Quality Assurance in the Cannabis Industry.” Each is a 48-hour course, running for up to 12 weeks, with a price tag starting at roughly $1200 ($1,495 CDN).

Full-Time Cannabis Diplomas and Degrees

One-off courses can help open doors for business or law students and perhaps help post-graduates better understand the basics, but what about a full-time program? To date, there are a handful of established universities offering a full course load as related to cannabis.

The University of McGill offers a Post-Baccalaureate Diploma in Commercial Cannabis from the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. For students living outside of Quebec, costs are steep, starting at $3186 ($3,970 CDN). Prices go up to $7265 ($9,055 CDN) for international students.

South of the border, several US universities now offer bachelor of science degrees under titles like Medicinal Plant Chemistry or Cannabis Biology and Chemistry. Northern Michigan University and Colorado State University are just two of these programs. A four-year degree in Cannabis Biology and Chemistry from the University of Colorado Pueblo will cost well over $40,000.

Expectations Versus Reality: The Cost of Education Compared with Average Salaries

Is the cost of higher education worth the high ticket price? As is the case in other industries, Americans now hold $124 billion in student debt, with 11 percent of recent graduates defaulting on that debt within the first year. It is no wonder that students across all sectors find it difficult to reconcile substantial debt load with post-graduation salary expectations.

How much can recent graduates expect to make in cannabis? In Canada, an entry-level position (for example, pickers, packagers, and retail customer service) can expect to make between $16 to $18 CDN per hour ($12.84 to $14.41 USD), depending on location. More experienced positions start at a salary of $60,000 CDN.

In America, the numbers are similar. According to figures detailed in a 2021 Vangst Report, entry-level trimmers and budtenders can expect $15.00 per hour, and extraction technicians average $37,000 annually. Senior positions, like directors and vice presidents, can expect over $100,000 annually.

Do workers eager to work with cannabis need to invest thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars into specialized cannabis degrees and certificates? Does it make sense to go into significant student debt for entry-level positions? That's a difficult question to answer.

In the early days of the cannabis industry, anyone and everyone with cannabis experience was welcomed into a booming but nascent sector.

But over the years, job requirements may have shifted to be more specific—for example, lab technicians will need a chemistry degree, and budtenders will need extensive customer service experience. Thus far, the lack of highly specific cannabis training hasn't created barriers to hiring. People are quickly and easily moving from other sectors into cannabis because their broad skills are needed, from human resources to compliance to administration.

COVID-19 has added another complicated layer. It has upended the service sector and eliminated entry-level positions elsewhere. On the one hand, “cannabis employees are in high demand during [an] economic crash” as per Politico, yet “inexperienced workers can't get entry-level jobs” as per a timely piece by the BBC.

The job market in cannabis and beyond is going through a period of significant turmoil. While specific training may not be necessary for certain positions, especially highly specialized ones, it may give people an upper hand for entry-level jobs. It remains to be seen if the costs are worth it.

Universities Seek to Fill Knowledge Gap and Reap the Benefits of Cannabis Boom

Considering Canada and most American states are experiencing the benefits of a legal cannabis market, it's not surprising that secondary education is paying attention. Since there is significant student interest in cannabis as a career path, new courses, diplomas, and degrees are popping up all over.

Are they worth it? Most haven't been around long enough to establish themselves as the leading educational voice within the sector. It will take time for the market to mature, for the COVID-19 turmoil to subside, and for students to graduate before anyone knows for sure if these costs are worth it.

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