U-M to launch three new online master’s-level programs


The University of Michigan continues to expand its portfolio of online programs with the support of the Center for Academic Innovation, launching three new programs in the fields of public health, social work, and sustainability and development.

Master’s-level learners will have new innovative and flexible options through one online master’s degree program and two online MasterTrack Certificate programs, offered on Coursera, an online learning platform that offers courses, specializations and degrees.

MasterTrack Certificate programs are an affordable series of courses that lead to a certificate. In addition to gaining a valuable industry-aligned credential, successful completion of the program can accelerate an individual’s path toward a degree for students admitted to an associated master’s degree program at U-M.

The Master of Science in Population and Health Sciences degree is the second online degree program from the School of Public Health, this one with a research focus. This program is pending final approval from the Michigan Association of State Universities.

A MasterTrack Certificate program in Sustainability and Development represents a first of its kind on this topic among online certificates. The Social Work: Practice, Policy, and Research MasterTrack Certificate provides a high-touch learning experience and a flexible path into an accelerated Master of Social Work degree.

“As we face complex global challenges, we need to prepare future leaders to create a healthy, sustainable and just world,” said James DeVaney, associate vice provost and founding executive director of the Center for Academic Innovation.

“With these three new programs, we are expanding our efforts to increase access and ensure a variety of pathways for learners to engage as part of the Michigan community while gaining skills to solve grand challenges.”

The Center for Academic Innovation supports the design, development and launch of online and hybrid programs through its Academic Innovation Fund, DeVaney said. The center invests in programs like the three announced that increase access to high-quality learning experiences at scale through flexible and stackable learning, he said.

The new programs are accessible through Michigan Online, the online learning destination created by the Center for Academic Innovation, where learners can discover hundreds of courses, teach-outs, certificate programs and fully online degrees.

The Master of Science degree in population and health sciences expands the online degree offerings to a global audience, with a different focus than the practice-oriented Master of Public Health degree, launched in 2019.

The public health M.S. degree is geared toward those interested in academia or research, or in going on to earn a doctorate. It will focus on topics like research, data analysis, precision health and biostatistics. Learners will complete an in-depth research analysis project during the program.

“Now more than ever, we need population health scientists, and our new online Master of Science degree will help us reach and educate passionate learners across the globe,” said Sharon Kardia, associate dean for education at the School of Public Health.

“Following the successful launch of our first online Master of Public Health degree program in 2019, we’re excited to be one of the first institutions to bring an M.S. degree focused on population health to online learners. The program allows us to offer a researched-focused degree program in population health completely online.”

The School for Environment and Sustainability MasterTrack program is designed for a global audience of learners who are interested in knowing more about major, persistent global challenges and the best ways to address them, said Arun Agrawal, lead faculty member for the program, and the Samuel Trask Dana Professor and professor of environment and sustainability.

“We are motivated to develop this because the greatest challenges to societies come from our inability to manage ourselves to address sustainability and development,” he said. “Exploitation of ecosystems and loss of biodiversity, climate change, and persistent poverty and inequality are only some of these.

“The most recent, urgent threat we are now confronting, the spread of COVID-19 is a result of unfettered exploitation of wildlife for human consumption in the pursuit of short-term gains and profits. The longer-term threat of climate collapse is similarly the result of our inability to put resilience and equity on a similar footing as power and money.”

The robust online curriculum is the first of its kind at SEAS, Agrawal said. It will target the sustainable development goals of the United Nations and help address the urgency of a need for a stronger dialogue across international boundaries and between decision makers to solve persistent problems.

Five courses in the program provide an introduction to major environmental and sustainability challenges, help learners identify how to address them, and examine the effectiveness of different solutions. Learners who complete the program are awarded a certificate from U-M, and are eligible to receive credit earned toward a master’s degree program in environment and sustainability upon successful admittance to SEAS.

The Social Work MasterTrack program is focused on research, policy and practice. Six courses address advocacy for diversity, social justice and change and emphasize practice with individuals, families, small groups and community organizations.

Students can earn a certificate or, upon successful completion of all courses, may apply for admission to the advanced standing Master of Social Work degree program, which has been offered on campus and will also be offered via a new hybrid format, beginning spring 2021.

Launching the program on the Coursera platform enables the use of high-touch engagement features that will allow learners to work synchronously with each other on projects, or to engage directly with instructors through office hours.

Completing the MasterTrack program will allow students who want to pursue the M.S.W. to waive an entire semester, which equates to significant cost savings, said Barb Hiltz, clinical assistant professor, lead faculty member for the MasterTrack and director of the M.S.W. program.

“It also impacts access,” she said. “If you are someone who is working full time, this allows you to take courses in the evenings or on weekends for a certification or to make progress so that if you choose to earn a degree you can finish in three, not four, semesters.”

Hiltz said the program is expected to connect well with a School of Social Work hybrid degree program that is planning to admit its first students in 2021, pending final approval from the Michigan Association of State Universities. 


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