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The University plans to offer professionally oriented master's programs, two to four of which are projected to begin enrolling students as early as fall 2012, according to a report published by the Office of the Provost March 14.

Designed for mid-career professionals who often cannot be on campus for long periods of time, these programs will feature a blend of technology-based pedagogical methods. While their exact models and instructional formats are still being worked out, Karen Sibley, dean of continuing education, said there will probably be intensive periods of traditional class time on campus for a few days at the start and end of each program, while the remainder of the instruction will be done online.

The new programs will be held to the same standards as any degree-granting program at the University, and quality assurance will play an important role in their planning and implementation, Sibley said. "They better not be watered down," she said.

Classroom and online learning cannot be directly compared, just like a story told live cannot compare to one film, Sibley said. "A movie is simply a different conveyance of entertainment than a theater performance," she said. "It's not about something being better or worse."

‘Promising areas'

Biomedical technology, business analytics and health care management are examples of the "likely and promising areas" being investigated for potential degree programs, but specific fields of study have not yet been defined, said Rod Beresford P'13, associate provost and professor of engineering. The University's goal is to develop programs in markets that are "established" but "have not been saturated," he said at a March 22 faculty forum held to elicit feedback on the initial planning of the programs, according to the forum minutes.

Over the past year, the University has looked at specific programs being offered at other institutions as examples of potential directions it can take but does not intend to copy from them directly. According to the report from the provost's office, "it may be informative to consider some of these peer programs, not necessarily to suggest particular models for emulation, but simply to gain an appreciation for the variety of activity that is taking place."

In the report, possible professional master's programs are compared to existing offerings at other universities, including Northwestern University, the University of California at Santa Barbara, Penn and Yale.

The market for such programs has grown significantly as the number of adult students earning graduate degrees has "approximately doubled" in the last 10 years, according to the report. "Although this growth surge has largely bypassed Brown, many peer institutions have benefited."

While Sibley said Brown has seen its peer institutions building up these sorts of programs over the past decade or more, it has not actively pursued such initiatives until more recently. "Up until now, we haven't had the capacity for whatever reasons," she said. "But we've reached a juncture now where we have the capacity."

There were discussions about professional master's programs in the past, but these talks "became more serious" six to nine months ago, Beresford said.

Fitting in at Brown

Due to their highly interdisciplinary nature, the programs could be affiliated with several related departments, such as computer science and applied mathematics. But faculty members questioned whether the programs' lack of affiliation with departments will isolate them, according to the faculty forum minutes.

The University will bring in adjunct faculty to design and teach some of the courses in these new programs, so the programs will not be "an imposition on existing Brown faculty," Beresford said. But non-adjunct faculty members will be consulted during the creation and implementation of the courses and will need to approve major decisions. Some professors have also expressed interest in being more closely involved with and teaching in these programs, Sibley said.

At the March 22 forum, faculty members raised concerns that it may be difficult to find an adequate supply of adjunct instructors in the area and "ensure quality of faculty who are hired by a committee" instead of a department, according to the minutes.

When professional master's students are on campus, their classes will meet during evenings and on weekends to avoid interfering with scheduled classroom use, according to the report. Students will also stay in hotels and not require on-campus housing, according to the faculty forum minutes.

The professional master's programs and the University's atmosphere of liberal learning "fit together perfectly," Sibley said. The new master's programs, she added, are meant to "contend with a world that is global, fast-changing and requires a lot of humanistic thinking."

Sibley cited the popularity of the new IE Brown Executive MBA program as evidence of the importance of liberal arts in the professional master's program initiative. Students came to the MBA program because "it wasn't that standard box of tools" that any business program will provide, she said. "They wanted it because of the liberal arts content."

Richard Fishman, a professor of visual art who was heavily involved in the development of the IE MBA, explained that though he was initially skeptical about professional master's programs, his experiences with the business program were positive and "allayed concerns about eroding Brown's reputation in order to leverage a revenue stream."

Diversifying revenue

One objective of the new master's programs is to address the goal set in the Plan for Academic Enrichment to diversify the University's revenue sources and lessen its reliance on undergraduate tuition money, which contributes more to University income than at peer institutions, according the provost's office's report.

"We want to generate a new revenue stream, of course, but we want to do it in a mission-centered fashion, and we want to make a difference in the world," Sibley said. "These are people who can immediately transfer their skills from degree to difference."

Though it is "premature" to specify the tuition and fees students will pay for these programs, the University's biology master's of arts program currently offered to Pfizer Pharmaceuticals employees is "probably a good model," Beresford wrote in an email to The Herald. That program charges $4,991 per course and requires eight courses to complete the degree, according to the Office of Continuing Education website.

While financial aid was part of the budget for the IE business program, most students did not require this support. Beresford wrote that "financial aid is not expected to play a large role" in the new programs, because the majority of students in these programs will be professionals whose employers will pay for their education.

At the forum, Sibley and Beresford stated that the "initial investment is high," but the University should "break even in two years" if each program enrolls a minimum of 15 students. Most of these start-up costs will go toward creating online course material and hiring program leaders and instructors. Factoring these expenses into the financial model, Provost David Kertzer '69 P'95 P'98 said to the faculty that one-third of the programs' gross revenue will be "netted" by the University, according to the forum minutes.

Along with boosting revenue, the professional master's programs will benefit the undergraduate experience, Sibley said. "I don't know exactly what it will produce, but we believe that it's going to bring a valuable new understanding about teaching and the use of technology."

The programs will also bring "high-achieving professionals in contact with campus and regular Brown faculty" and reach out to a "very different audience," one that is less drawn to the University's current degree offe
rings, Beresford said.

The road ahead

Though there is "strong interest in seeing these programs develop at the level of the president and the Corporation," Beresford said the new programs will not begin to enroll students until fall 2012 at the earliest.

"There is an increasing demand for education at the master's level, and Brown needs to be responsive," wrote Peter Weber P'12, dean of the Graduate School, in an email to The Herald. "If many students seek an education in an area where Brown has strength and expertise, then it is in keeping with Brown's mission to provide such educational opportunities."

Interest in master's programs among students and administrators across the country is not limited to these professional fields, where Sibley said the "demand curve is already huge."

The University's current master's programs have been growing at a rate of 10 percent per year, Weber said. Compared to PhD programs, which provide stipends to students, most master's programs are not as constrained in size by funding concerns.

Before a new degree program is formally introduced, the initiative must be supported by the Academic Priorities Committee, the Graduate Student Council, the Faculty Executive Committee and the faculty before being sent to the Corporation for a final decision.

The report proposes moving forward at a "brisk pace" and bringing proposals for new programs before the Graduate Council at the beginning of the fall with the goal of gaining full faculty approval by the end of the semester. In contrast, the proposal for the IE MBA program took 15 months to develop, according to the faculty forum minutes.

The planning and implementation process for these new programs will be overseen by the provost's office, but the Office of Continuing Education will also supply "managerial staff and resource support," according to the report. An "advisory council on executive and professional education" could also be established immediately to coordinate the process, according to the report.


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