Montana State University

MSU ranked second in top online colleges for environmental science master's program

July 20, 2017 -- MSU News Service

The Montana State Online master's program in the Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences in MSU's College of Agriculture has been ranked second in the nation. Shown, an MSU student collects samples along the water.

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BOZEMAN — Montana State University’s online master’s program in environmental science has been recognized nationally.

MSU’s program earned the No. 2 spot on a list of the top online colleges offering environmental science degrees in 2017.

SR Education Group, an education research publisher founded in 2004, made the ranking in its annual Guide to Online Schools. According to the group, 112 schools offer online environmental science programs.

The online program has seen considerable enrollment growth since the program began in 2012, according to Tracy Sterling, department head of MSU’s Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences in the College of Agriculture and an instructor in the online program.   

“We are ecstatic at how successful this program has become, providing remote graduate coursework to students who mostly are full-time professionals practicing environmental science throughout the nation,” Sterling said. “Its success has relied on three essential components: its foundational science curriculum we have developed with 20 fantastic faculty instructors who are disciplinary experts, the high-quality students who bring such rich backgrounds to each course and are hungry to answer questions relevant to their field or region, and the incredible student support services provided by our partners in Montana State Online.”

Sterling added that the program’s foundations work together to prepare students for the many challenges facing land managers and government agencies in the environmental sciences.

To establish the ranking, SR Education analyzed accredited online schools across the nation, taking into consideration academic strength factors along with annual tuition rates in order to provide a list of colleges offering the best value to students. 

Appearance on the list is evidence of a school’s high academic standards and a commitment to affordability, according to Taitum Ridgway, a representative of SR Education Group. Ridgway added that both are key factors important to prospective students.

Bob Peterson, professor in the Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences, and Scott Powell, assistant professor of environmental sciences, both teach and manage the program. Both Peterson and Powell received excellence in online teaching awards from MSU for their teaching engagement in the program. Kim Obbink, director of Montana State Online, coordinates the program’s online administration.  

Powell said the graduate program has found a great niche that offers high value to students, most of whom are place-bound working professionals.    

“Our great niche as a program is that we offer a master’s degree in environmental science – a quantitative, rigorous field, something that is relatively rare in the world of online degree programs,” Powell said. “For this reason, students from far and wide are attracted to our program for the rare combination of rigor and value that MSU offers.”

The full ranking is available at

MSU’s online master’s degree program in environmental sciences is designed to provide outstanding graduate training opportunities across a substantial breadth of disciplinary interests. Programs are specifically adapted to each graduate student and often address processes at multiple scales through well-integrated, multidisciplinary efforts. Student projects are directed toward improving understanding of principles and processes important to land resources and environmental sciences, with opportunities for direct ties to management.

To learn more about the program, visit

More information about the MSU College of Agriculture is available at

Scott Powell,, 994-5017