The School of Public Health will offer a new, fully-online master of public health starting in fall 2022, according to Jennifer Nazareno, inaugural associate director for the online MPH and assistant professor at the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship and School of Public Health. This marks the University’s first exclusively-online degree program.
Similar to the in-person MPH, the online option requires completion of at least 12 courses for a minimum of 48 credit hours and takes a minimum of two years to complete, Nazareno wrote in an email to The Herald. While the in-person MPH costs $7,342 per class, its online counterpart costs $5,000 per course, according to the Bursar website.
The program was initiated by the Office of the Provost and the School of Public Health to “create a new innovative program that has a global reach,” Nazareno said to The Herald.
The program was designed for students unable to live near campus but who “want to move up in their career and believe that an MPH” would help their career, regardless of “whether they’re working in a nonprofit organization or a hospital or a social enterprise or even in the private sector,” she added.
Initial idea and development
Discussions around creating an online option for MPH began during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Megan Ranney MPH ’10, professor of emergency medicine and academic dean at the School of Public Health.
Ranney added that from the final decision to create an online MPH — which the University made last summer — to its launch in the upcoming semester, the process occurred in “record time.”
The program was created to offer a public health education “to a wider cross-section of students” through its ease of accessibility, according to Ranney.
“Now more than ever, we felt it was really important for us to expand the public health workforce — to find ways to train folks who maybe had been interested in public health for a long time but had never been able to take the time to get a master’s,” Ranney said.
The exclusively online program allows those who are working professionals, have families or cannot relocate the option to pursue an MPH without having to uproot themselves and their lives, according to Nazareno.
According to Ranney and Nazareno, the proliferation of online learning during the pandemic was an impetus behind the creation of an exclusively-online option.
The pandemic “forced us into using the (online) modality much more,” Nazareno said. COVID-19 has “taught us … what’s possible in the education space.”
Being forced to change teaching methods reduced the “intimidation factor of the unknown associated with online teaching and learning,” said Melissa Kane, senior associate director of online program development at the Sheridan Center.
Structure of the program
The online option, which has a priority application deadline of May 15 and a final deadline of June 1, will launch this fall, Nazareno said.
The applicant pool will draw from a wide range of backgrounds, with “highly desirable” applicants including those with two or more years of professional experience, according to a University press release.
The online MPH program is “generalist,” Nazareno said. Unlike the in-person MPH, which has specific concentration options in disciplines such as epidemiology and global health, the online degree encompasses a range of MPH courses, she added.
Much of the teaching “in the online MPH is going to be around using specific public health cases as a lens to applying the tools that students need to be great public health practitioners,” Ranney said.
While case-based learning is a tool the School of Public Health has used before, it will be used more heavily in the online option, Kane said.
According to Kane, classes will be composed of both asynchronous and synchronous elements, but each student has the option to take all courses asynchronously, according to Kane.
“The goal … is to really support student learning,” Kane said. “There’s going to be an equivalent activity for students who can’t make it to the synchronous sessions, so there’s not going to be any learning loss” as a result of being absent.
Nazareno added that there is an ongoing search committee led by Theresa Shireman, professor of health services, policy and practice, to hire the first group of faculty. The School of Public Health is looking for faculty who are excited to teach and explore online learning .
Challenges and advantages of an online option
Because the School of Public Health is creating the first exclusively-online degree program at the University, its designers are facing a unique “challenge” and “opportunity,” Kane said.
“How do we maintain the Brown experience in an online space while still maintaining integrity of the learning experience?” Kane said.
For Nazareno, building community will be a difficult but necessary task. “The challenge is making sure we make those connections so that students feel (like) a part of the program … and the Brown community,” she said.
But Kane said that expanding the MPH program’s reach globally is a major advantage.
“You think about public health, and … there’s impact everywhere,” she said. An online program builds “these networks … in ways that you couldn’t do if it was just an in-person program.”
“I’m hoping that (the online MPH program) leads to more programs,” Kane said. “This program is an excellent start to Brown’s game in the online space.”