UC Berkeley School of Public Health to launch online degree program

Next semester, the UC Berkeley School of Public Health will launch the first online degree program ever to be offered on campus.

Beginning in spring 2012, students enrolled in the new program — the On-Campus/Online Professional Master of Public Health Degree Program — will be able to take a majority of their classes online, with only three on-campus sessions, to earn a master of public health degree.

The degree program’s curriculum will require 14 courses for a minimum of 42 semester units, and at least a 3.0 grade point average. It has the same core requirements as its on-campus parallel degree program in public health, with the addition of eight courses to provide a “broad-based interdisciplinary background in public health,” according to the program’s website.

Nap Hosang, director of the school’s interdisciplinary MPH program and head of the new online program, said the introduction of the program stemmed from a growing need for public health workers both in the state of California and nationally.

“About three to four years ago, we did market surveys that figured out there was going to be national shortage of public health workers — about 450,000 — by the year 2020,” Hosang said. “At that point, the dean of public health and the associate dean decided they would initiate the process to see what it would take to develop an online public health degree.”

According to Hosang, campus officials had also determined that the school could not accommodate the physical presence of more students, leading the school’s administrative team to consider an online option.

Additionally, the faculty of the school took into account the accessibility and innovation of an online degree, Hosang said.

“It’s an exciting opportunity for faculty to compare differences in student receptivity and knowledge acquisition,” he said. “I think we are the guinea pigs, and other professional schools may be watching closely to see what we are doing.”

However, reactions to the implementation of an online degree program have not all been positive.

“While I understand that this program can offer training in public health to people in other countries and remote areas that may not be able to attend college easily, I worry about offering an online degree in any field from UC Berkeley,” said campus Graduate Assembly President Bahar Navab in an email. “I think online degree programs have the potential to diminish the value of a UC Berkeley education.”

Navab added that the assembly has not taken an official stance on online education as a whole on campus, but is “very concerned” about how it is being carried out.

“I understand that the university needs to find creative ways to bring in new revenue but there are serious concerns about online education being that new source of revenue,” she said in the email. “Also, can we honestly say that an online course is the equivalent of hands on training and face-to-face group discussion?”

The structure of the new program will allow for 85 percent of coursework to be completed online, with a mandatory 15 days to be spent on campus for special sessions. The cost of tuition and student fees will total approximately $19,000 per year.

Hosang said approximately 214 students are expected to be enrolled in the program each year, and the first class will begin Jan. 17.

“The market survey clearly indicated that there are people currently with jobs in this environment who don’t want to go back to school because they’re afraid they won’t get a job later on,” Hosang said. “There are also people who’d like to be able to do this who are not in the Bay Area — people who really like the idea of being able to get a high-quality degree from a high-quality institution and not have to leave their home.”

Amy Wang covers academics and administration.