Master—€™s degree: For here or to go?

June 2011 » Exclusive
Technology and economy fuel increased demand for online master—€™s degree programs
Theresa M. Casey, FSMPS, CPSM
Villanova University College of Engineering currently has five distance education classrooms and is in the process of building three more.

Universities offering online master’s degrees in civil engineering are reporting record increases in enrollment, in large part because of technology improvements and the sluggish economy. Enrollment in all online degree programs rose by 1 million students in 2010, a 21-percent increase from the previous year, according to the eighth annual report of The Sloan Survey of Online Learning (www.sloanconsortium.org). It was the largest one-year increase since the survey’s inception and is much greater than the 2-percent growth reported for traditional classroom programs.

“We’ve seen enrollment in the MS, civil engineering program double since its inception in 2003,” said Sean O’Donnell, director of e-learning and graduate marketing, Villanova University College of Engineering. “We currently have five distance education classrooms, and we’re in the process of building three more.”

"The number of enrolled students in the graduate civil engineering program has increased 32 percent from 2007 to 2010," said Taha F. Marhaba, Ph.D, P.E., professor and chairman, New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering. "NJIT continues to integrate new media and multi-media in the delivery of courses, and we add additional online classes regularly to meet the rising demand, including NJIT’s option of downloading many course lectures through iTunes U."

As is typical in a slow economy, the unemployed and employed, alike, look to improve their education to stay competitive. Now, with advanced technology using both live and recorded classes and high-speed Internet connections offering the means to transmit the information cost effectively, online courses have become very attractive. Online programs provide flexibility to access the class and related materials at any time and around a busy work and family schedule; less time commitment with no travel time; and reduced costs for housing, transportation, and meals with access available from work or home.

Since developing its first online GIS certificate program in 1999, Penn State´s Department of Geography has expanded its GIS offerings to 26 online courses and now offers a Master of GIS program and Post-baccalaureate Certificates in GIS and Geospatial Intelligence. Online students come from virtually every state in the United States and many countries, and the department has awarded nearly 1,300 GIS certificates and 55 Master of GIS degrees.

Ralph Ellis, P.E., Ph.D., Department of Civil and Coastal Engineering, University of Florida, whose online program began in 2006, stated: “We currently have 50 online civil engineering students in the master’s program, or 30 percent of our civil engineering master’s program. We anticipate that the number of online students will continue to grow quite rapidly in the coming years.”

NJIT stated that it helped to pioneer distance learning when two NJIT professors in the late 1970s created the software and the teaching methods used to support some of the first online classes. In fact, NJIT said that the phrase “virtual classroom” was coined and registered as a trademark at NJIT in 1986.

With increasing numbers of graduates and with most programs offering access to the same instructors and courses as their traditional programs, there has been a marked increase in those who perceive the online program to be as valuable as the bricks and mortar version. According to Villanova’s O’Donnell: “The stats show that grade point averages of our online students are equal to those of our in-class students. Anecdotally, our professors report that online students tend to be very motivated, more mature, and more experienced, providing a very rich contribution to online course discussions and assignments.”

Online programs typically have the same admission and graduation requirements of traditional programs, requiring 27 to 36 credits for a master’s degree. In addition to the following schools that offer complete online master’s degree programs in civil engineering and related fields, many more engineering schools offer at least some courses online for their master’s degree programs.

Auburn University
www.auburn.edu/distance_learning/auonline
• Master of Environmental Engineering

Colorado State University
www.learn.colostate.edu
• Master of Engineering, Civil Engineering

Columbia University
www.cvn.columbia.edu
• Master of Science, Civil Engineering — Concentration Areas: General and Construction Engineering and Management
• Master of Science, Earth and Environmental Engineering

Drexel University
www.drexel.com/online-degrees/masterdegrees.aspx
• Master of Science, Construction Management
• Master of Science, Project Management

Florida International University
www.cm.fiu.edu/mscmonline
• Master of Science, Construction Management

Illinois Institute of Technology
http://iit.edu/iit_online/programs.shtml
• Master of Environmental Engineering

Iowa State University
www.ede.iastate.edu/Graduate/Graduate-Programs-Online/civil.html
• Master of Science, Civil Engineering — Concentration Area: Construction Engineering and Management

Kansas State University
www.dce.k-state.edu/engineering/masters/civil
• Master of Science, Civil Engineering

Missouri University of Science and Technology
http://futurestudents.mst.edu/degrees/index.html?actionLinks=true
• Master of Science, Civil Engineering
• Master of Science, Environmental Engineering
• Master of Engineering, Geotechnics

New Jersey Institute of Technology
www.online.njit.edu
• Master of Science, Civil Engineering

North Carolina State University
www.distance.ncsu.edu
• Master of Civil Engineering

North Dakota State University
www.ndsu.edu/dce/degrees/graduate/ms_consmgmt
• Master of Science, Construction Management

Norwich University
http://civilengineering.norwich.edu
• Master of Civil Engineering — Four technical tracks: Structural, Geotechnical, Construction Management, or Environmental/Water Resource Engineering

Pennsylvania State University
www.worldcampus.psu.edu
• Master of Geographic Information Systems

Southern Methodist University
www.smu.edu/Lyle/Graduate/ProspectiveStudents/DistanceEducation.aspx
• Master of Science, Civil Engineering
• Master of Science, Environmental Science
• Master of Science, Environmental Engineering

University of Alabama Birmingham
www.uab.edu/engineering/professional-programs/cem
• Master of Engineering, Construction Engineering Management 

University of Colorado Denver
www.cuonline.edu/GIS
• Master of Engineering, GIS

University of Idaho (Engineering Outreach Program)
www.uidaho.edu/cogs/academics/distancelearning/listofonlinedegrees
http://eo.uidaho.edu
• Master of Engineering, Civil Engineering
• Master of Science, Geological Engineering

University of Illinois
http://cee.illinois.edu/ceeonline
• Master of Science, Civil Engineering — Concentration Areas: Construction Management and Transportation Engineering

University of Florida
www.distancelearning.ufl.edu
• Master of Science, Civil Engineering
• Master of Science, Systems Ecology and Ecological Engineering
• Master of Science, Water Resources Planning and Management
• Master of Science, Water, Wastewater and Stormwater Engineering

University of Louisville
http://louisville.edu/online/master-of-science-in-civil-engineering.html
• Master of Science, Civil Engineering — Specialization: Transportation Engineering

University of South Carolina
www.ce.sc.edu/StudentInfo/Apogee/index.html
• Master of Science, Civil Engineering
• Master of Engineering, Civil Engineering

University of Tennessee-Knoxville
http://anywhere.tennessee.edu/de/programs/index.html
• Master of Science, Civil Engineering — Public Works Option
• Master of Science, Environmental Engineering

University of Washington
www.pce.uw.edu/online-learning
• Master in Construction Engineering
• Master in Sustainable Transportation

University of Wisconsin-Platteville
www.uwplatt.edu/disted/engineering.html
• Master of Science, Engineering — Concentration Area: Structural/Geotechnical Engineering

Villanova University
www.villanova.edu/engineering/academics/distance_ed
• Master of Science in Water Resources and Environmental Engineering
• Master of Science in Civil Engineering

Virginia Tech
www.vto.vt.edu
• Master of Science in Civil Engineering — Concentration Area: Transportation Infrastructure and Systems Engineering
• Master of Science in Environmental Sciences and Engineering — Concentration Area: Environmental and Water Resources Engineering

Worcester Polytechnic Institute
http://online.wpi.edu/environmental.html
• Master of Science, Environmental Engineering

A different experience
Probably the biggest apprehension on the minds of prospective distance learners is how the online experience will look and feel. Online offerings can vary from the most basic of reading online course material and e-mailing assignments (referred to as asynchronous) to very rich, real-time, interactive video conferencing transmitted (synchronous) to a specific receiver site or to personal computers virtually anywhere in the world. In addition to written explanations of how each school’s online program works, some schools, such as Villanova University, North Carolina State University, and Virginia Tech have tried to allay any concerns with online orientations, video explanations, and even online sample courses to try out prior to enrolling.

However, online courses are not for everyone. Successful online students tend to be independent, highly self-motivated, good time managers, and deadline-oriented. The challenge for colleges and universities seems to lie in the ability to provide a rich experience, maintaining a personal connection, and staying within operating and equipment budgets.

Outfitting a distance education classroom can run from $20,000 to more than $100,000, depending on the infrastructure in place. According to University of Florida’s Ellis: “We’ve been able to address many aspects of the online learning experience, including connecting live with the instructor and other students, but the education industry continues to have a challenge with laboratory-type courses. We continue to work toward a better solution on this front.”

Learning online works for many people, but it often is a new experience and takes some getting used to. But with a continued call for a more educated workforce, rising gasoline prices, and technological improvements, it’s clear that the need for online education will continue to grow. Villanova’s O’Donnell added, “The emerging direction for online programs is taking advantage of mobile technology so that students can access online courses with mobile phones and iPads.”

Add to this listing
Do you know any colleges or universities not on this list that offer online master’s degree programs in civil engineering or related disciplines? Please send the institution’s name and website address to Bob Drake at bdrake@zweigwhite.com.

Theresa M. Casey, FSMPS, CPSM, is founding principal of On Target Marketing & Communications, LLC, based in Columbia, Conn. The firm specializes in the engineering, architecture, construction, accounting, and legal industries. She can be contacted at tcasey@on-target.biz or 860-228-0163.


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