Montana State University

MSU announces development of new online programs

May 3, 2011 -- MSU News Service

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
Montana State University has announced development of several online programs as part of a new initiative to expand the university's distance education offerings.

Provost Martha Potvin announced that the following programs, which are in various stages of development, were selected from among many ideas suggested by MSU faculty in response to a university-wide push to expand MSU's service to Montanans through distance learning.

Master's degree: Environmental Science. A fully online master's degree in environmental science will be offered by the Department of Land Resources and Environmental Science in the College of Agriculture. The online degree is designed for employees of non-profit, governmental and industry organizations; environmental law and consulting professionals; and others who work in environmental fields. The degree differs from those offered by other institutions in that it focuses on science, rather than policy or management issues.

Bachelor's degree completion programs: Liberal Studies and Community-Centered Teacher Education. These online programs from University College and the College of Education, Health and Human Development would serve place-bound Montanans who have some college credits and would like to complete a bachelor's degree. According to the Lumina Foundation, approximately 28 percent of Montanans have some college credits but no bachelor's degree. An additional nine percent of Montanans have an associate's degree but no bachelor's degree.

Continuing education programs for professionals: Spanish, Engineering. The College of Letters & Sciences will offer online Spanish courses for professionals who work in healthcare, education and business. Planning grants were awarded to faculty in the College of Engineering to further explore graduate certificates and professional development in engineering fields.

Faculty anticipate the master's degree in environmental science will be available within the year, and that the first online Spanish course will be offered this fall. Developers of the other programs will continue meeting with potential partners on other campuses and throughout the state while undertaking additional planning and research.

In her inaugural address in October 2010, MSU President Waded Cruzado said that creation of new online programs is a top priority for the university.

"MSU will embrace...this vehicle that enables us to reach out and meet the diverse educational needs of students in every corner of this state," she said in the speech, adding that like all MSU programs, new online degrees and certificates will reflect MSU's strict attention to quality and rigor.

In January 2011, the university appealed to faculty for new online program ideas, and announced that funding would be available to support development of the programs considered most viable. The announcement specified that new online programs should be unique within the state, meet the needs of place-bound Montanans, serve specific target audiences, and be ready to launch within a year. This year's commitment of $90,000 will cover faculty time for program planning and course development, conversion of face-to-face courses to an online format, and additional services to support online students.

Potvin said, "Several other promising programs were suggested for Montana State Online, and we will continue working with faculty to fine-tune the ideas." She added that MSU will continue to keep distance learning as a top priority and will support and encourage faculty who teach online and have ideas for new distance education programs.

"We were excited by the number and quality of new program ideas, particularly given the very short time frame for not just suggesting new ideas but proposing viable plans, complete with detailed market research," said Kim Obbink, director of MSU's Extended University. "The faculty who proposed these programs submitted excellent evidence that these programs will serve place-bound students in Montana and beyond."

For more information about MSU's online programs and initiatives, visit

Contacts: Kim Obbink or Peg Wherry, MSU Extended University, (406) 994-6550,,