The Boston University School of Public Health announced its launch of the Online Executive Master’s of Public Health program in a press release Jan. 7. The program is open to applicants with five or more years of health-related experience and will begin in the fall of 2020.
With the five year experience requirement, the program targets students who are actively involved in careers or additional degree programs and may require a more flexible schedule.
Sandro Galea, dean of SPH, said the program allows students to earn their master’s in public health while also focusing on other academic and career goals.
“A medical student, for example, could do the MPH while she continues on in medical school, as long as she is willing to do the hard work,” Galea said. “So the idea is to allow adult students an opportunity to do the MPH without disrupting other responsibilities they have in their life.”
Although the on-campus residential program currently offers different courses than the online program, Galea said that both programs offer a wide variety of course options.
“The range of options is slightly different,” Galea said, “but it’s the same degree, same everything.”
Lisa Sullivan, the associate dean for education in SPH, said even though the online program is new, the target group of working professionals have been seeking a way to get additional education for decades.
“When the school started over 40 years ago, we were a school where almost all of our students were part-time students who had [field] experience,” Sullivan said. “We still have this very precious group of experienced people who want to go further and take on leadership roles in public health. They needed a slightly different program to meet their professional goals and interests.”
Rafik Wahbi, a current residential MPH candidate in SPH, said he does not see a downside to the online program.
“One of the benefits of being a resident student is you get the opportunities for internships and jobs to start your career in public health,” Wahbi said. “But if you’re doing an executive MPH and you’ve developed yourself in some field already, you don’t need that as much.”
Wahbi also noted there are current students in the residential MPH program who may have preferred the online program, as it could have been a better fit for their schedule.
“I definitely know students who are working full time and are pretty invested in their careers,” Wahbi said, “and are taking an MPH to increase their knowledge base of public health who would’ve enjoyed or benefited from an online program like this.”
Tala Fahoum, a freshman in the Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, said she thinks the online program is good for increasing accessibility for students who wish to pursue public health, but that the quality of the education may differ in an online setting.
“It’s not as comprehensive because you’re not in a classroom,” Fahoum said. “I think it’s nice because it’s accessible, but you might not be getting the same education.”
Gabriella Ostoyich, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences, said she sees online programs like SPH’s new option as powerful in increasing access for students, but recognizes the downsides of an online class environment.
“I think online graduate programs are really important because they cater to a group of people who generally wouldn’t have the opportunity because they’re working another job or pursuing another field of study,” Ostoyich said. “But I think difficulties also come with it, just because there’s a lot to be said in graduate programs about personal contact and knowing your professors well, and you lose that degree of interaction when it’s online.”
Abigail Hulick, a sophomore in the Questrom School of Business, said she sees online programs as a useful addition to the curriculum that could open up education opportunities to a new crop of students.
“I think that online classes really make education available to a lot more people in a lot more regions,” Hulick said.