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Is an Online Master of Engineering the right move for you?

ENGINEERING.com’s survey of Online Engineering Degree Programs in North America



Online Master of Engineering Degrees grew by 79%
Our editors contacted eleven universities offering online Master of Engineering programs. Of those that reported enrollment data, the average program growth over the past 5 years has been 79%. That’s an annual growth rate of more than 12%. And while some fared better than others, every university we contacted reported significant growth in their online Master of Engineering programs.

The trend for on-campus Master of Engineering programs is also positive. The numbers are up approximately 13% over the 5 year horizon we studied for this report. Half of that growth came in the last year.



Online or on campus - Master of Engineering programs are more popular than ever

According to the American Society for Engineering Education, there were over 41,000 Master in Engineering awarded in the 2008/09 academic year, up 6.8% from the prior year.

That makes the 2008/09 academic year the biggest ever for Master of Engineering degrees, whether on campus or online.

This trend shows no signs of slowing down. The enrollment for 2009/10 is up another 7%!

Read on to learn why more people are taking these degrees, and what you can expect if you decide to take that step.



Why take a Masters’ Degree in Engineering?
Engineers take Masters’ degrees to advance their career. Full stop. Almost all part-time Masters’ students at the schools we studied are already employed. These ambitious individuals take advanced degrees to improve their current or future job performance and career prospects.



Why Online?
Reason 1 – Class Scheduling
According to Forrest Ames at the University of North Dakota, their online program began as a partnership with a large local employer who wanted a way to upgrade the skills of their engineers without sending them away to school. She went on to say that "the majority of our online students are employees with full time jobs." Clearly, the convenience of being able to take classes when you want rather than when they are offered in a lecture hall is a deciding factor for many of these students.

Reason 2 – Keeping your job
Stephen Sattler from Johns Hopkins pointed out, "The vast majority of our prospective students are currently employed and seeking a part-time graduate degree to increase their knowledge or advance in their careers. People who take online or part-time master’s degrees don’t want to stop their careers to continue their education."

Reason 3 – Financial
The economics of online degrees are superior to commuting or moving to a school. Students can keep their jobs, keep their current housing arrangement and keep their cars in the garage. And since many of the best engineering schools in the country now offer online Masters’ degrees, these students aren’t compromising their education to do so.

Case Study
LCDR Teague Swalm chose to complete his Master’s in Engineering online with Mississippi State University. He stressed the importance of distance education to a Navy pilot.

"Swami" deploys extensively overseas to areas such as the Western Pacific, Afghanistan and Central & South America. A distance education program is the only way he could engage in continued education: "Spare time isn't a luxury I have. A robust deployment schedule sometimes meant taking classes from 3 or 4 different locations around the world. And when I'm home there's the family with two kids, so I would regularly log into the online campus after the little guys fell asleep, many times 9 pm or later. Without a distance program, further education just wouldn't be feasible."

Continuing education was also critical to his career advancement, "In my case, simply having an advanced technical degree is certainly career enhancing. The Navy doesn't officially require an advanced degree, but within such a competitive peer group, the reality is that an officer's career will most likely stagnate without at least a Masters’."

 


The convenience factor is a huge reason why people take their degrees online. They can continue to work full-time and schedule their school time in the evenings or on weekends. And for many working engineers, quitting their jobs and going back to school full-time is just not a financial possibility.

These reasons are fueling huge growth in online course demand. The following chart was obtained from one school. We’ve camouflaged the data, but the growth rates are real.

 


Who is taking their Master of Engineering Online?
Christine Fagan, Marketing Analyst at Drexel University, provided the following demographics for their online student body: "Engineers in our Engineering Management program hold at least a Bachelors’ degree, and generally have a minimum of 3-5 years of experience in industry (or with an engineering-intensive government function). Current demographics are approximately 80% male/20% female. Minimum age is estimated at 23, and Maximum age is estimated at 55. Most students in our program are employed full-time."

We heard a similar story from Dawn Utley, Director of Distance Learning at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. She pointed out their student body is 2/3 male and 1/3 female with an average age of 42 years old.

Case Study
Dan Plymire was working on his Masters’ degree at John’s Hopkins University when he landed a job in Pittsburgh. He had to move before finishing his coursework, but was able to complete the degree online. "Fortunately, I found out that the entire program was available online, so I didn’t need to live close to campus. And with a wide range of courses, I could easily tailor the program to reflect my specific interests," he says.

Dan thrived in his online classes, which he says promoted a great deal of interaction between students. "We had ongoing opportunities to collaborate with other students." And Dan adds: "Reading so much scientific literature and having intensive weekly assignments helped me become a much better writer.

 


What does it cost?
Schools quote pricing for online courses in terms of cost per course. These range from as low as $861 per course for state residents at the North Carolina State Graduate School to as much as $3,300 for the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey and $3,600 for Southern Methodist University.

The price per course doesn’t tell you the full price for the program because different schools require more or fewer courses to graduate. See the table below:



What schools offer an online Masters’ Degree in Engineering?
In the following table you will find statistics on several of the top online Master of Engineering programs being offered in the United States. Many schools report their courses required in terms of credit hours. In those cases we have calculated the number of courses from the credit hour requirements.

School Masters Programs Price Per Course Courses Required Student enrollment
Bagley College of Engineering at Mississippi State University
  • Civil Engineering
  • Computer Engineering
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Industrial Engineering

Also offers Certificate Program in Six Sigma

$3,300 11 courses 2,000
Colorado State University
  • Systems Engineering
  • Civil Engineering (Water Resource Management)
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering (Engineering Management, Industrial Engineering and Operations Research, Materials Engineering)

Also offers Certificate Program in Transportation Engineering

$1,794

10 courses

126
Drexel University
  • Computer Science
  • Software Engineering - Computer Science and Information Science & Technology tracks available
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Engineering Management

Also offers Certificate Programs in:

  • Power Engineering Management
  • Engineering Management
  • Infrastructure Engineering Management
$2,880 15 - 17 courses Not provided
John Hopkins University, Engineering for Professionals Program
  • Bioinformatics
  • Environmental Planning and Management
  • Computer Science
  • Systems Engineering
$2,885 10 courses 800
Kansas State University
  • Chemical
  • Civil
  • Electrical
  • Mechanical
  • Operations Research
  • Engineering Management
  • Software Engineering
$1,911 10 courses 120

NC State Graduate School

  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Civil Engineering
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Industrial Engineering
  • Materials Science and Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Nuclear Engineering
  • Integrated Mfg Systems Engineering
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Engineering
  • Computer Engineering
  • Computer Science

$810 for NC residents

$2,100 for non-residents

10 – 11 courses

900

Southern Methodist University, Lyle School of Engineering

  • Computer Engineering
  • Computer Science
  • Security Engineering
  • Software Engineering
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Electrical Engineering - Telecom Design Specialization
  • Engineering Management
  • Information Engineering and Management
  • Operations Research
  • Systems Engineering
  • Civil Engineering
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Manufacturing Systems Management
$3,600

10 courses

1,000

Stevens Institute of Technology

  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Pharmaceutical Manufacturing
  • Microelectronics and Photonics
  • Network Information System
  • Computer Engineering
  • Engineering Management
  • Security and Privacy
  • Software Engineering
  • Systems Engineering

$3,300

10 courses

2,000

University of Alabama

  • Aerospace Engineering

$1,000

12 courses

40

University of Alabama Huntsville

  • Engineering Management
  • Systems Engineering
  • Industrial Engineering
  • Rotorcraft Systems Engineering
  • Missile Systems Engineering

Also offers Certificate Programs in:

  • Engineering Management Theory
  • Project Engineering Management
  • Systems Engineering
  • Applied Statistics

$1,620 for AL residents

$2,150 for non-residents

12 courses

676

University of North Dakota

  • Environmental Engineering

$1,730 for ND residents

$2,560 for non-residents

10 courses

300



The online learning experience
Online education has come a long way in the past 20 years. Gone are the video tapes and poor connections. These have now been replaced by sophisticated online learning environments.

For example, the offering at Kansas State includes threaded message boards; chat rooms; and live virtual classroom software offering audio, application sharing, and content display; streaming video that is also downloadable; a live Whiteboard; an online gradebook so students can view their grades; the capability for students to be assigned to ‘Groups’ to work on projects together; and a ‘Dropbox’ for uploading homework assignments and other documents.

Christine Fagan points out that "Drexel students receive access to our Online Learning Team, a group within our Information Resources and Technology department dedicated to ensuring a pleasurable online teaching/learning experience and resolving technology and connectivity issues."

"The feedback from students and faculty has been overwhelmingly positive – it gives participants the option of interacting with their classmates in real-time. Students can also listen to recordings of the events they may have missed," said Robert Zotti, Assistant Dean of WebCampus for Stevens. "Many of our students have told us that through studying online, they’ve developed new skills for managing virtual projects and virtual teams."



The degree granted is the same as on campus
Stephen Sattler from Johns Hopkins University points out that the same professors teach the same courses online as on campus "using technology that is the most effective in delivering the desired learning outcome."

At the University of North Dakota, Forrest Ames states, "I believe that our distance students perceive that our programs are of similar quality to our on-campus offerings. Our distance students view lectures which were recorded when our on-campus students are in class."

At Kansas State University, "All student services for on-campus students are also available to distance students including financial aid and scholarships, technology support, library services, advising, disability support services, career and employment services. The student transcripts and diplomas are exactly the same as campus students’ with no indication that they took their courses online," says Ellen Stauffer.

And Dr. Utley from the University of Alabama in Huntsville added, "All distance learning students are part of a live course with in-class students. The requirements and expectations are the same. Typically the distance learning student GPA is slightly higher than the on-campus population."

Higher grades, the same degree, no commuting and all while you keep your job. It’s no wonder that more people are taking their Master of Engineering degrees online than ever before. [geodesic]



We would like to thank the individuals below for assisting us in conducting the online engineering distance education survey:

Robert Zotti, Assistant Dean, WebCampus, Stevens Institute of Technology

Dr. Ken Hartman, Academic Director, Drexel University Online, Christine Fagan, Marketing Analyst, and Kristen Johnson, Administrative Coordinator-Engineering Management Program, College of Engineering

Stephen Sattler, Director of Marketing and Communications, Johns Hopkins Engineering for Professionals

Forrest E. Ames, PhD, P.E., Professor of Mechanical Engineering, University of North Dakota

Ellen Stauffer, Engineering Program Coordinator, Division of Continuing Education, Kansas State University

Patrick Hicks, Sr. Director of Graduate Programs and Business Development, Lyle School of Engineering, Southern Methodist University

Dawn R. Utley, Ph.D., P.E., Associate Professor, Director of Distance Learning, The University of Alabama in Huntsville

Carl Melle, Program Director, Continuing Education, Colorado State University

Allan Guenther, Program Manager, Division of Academic Outreach, College of Continuing Studies, The University of Alabama

Dr. Linda Krute, Director, Engineering Distance Education Programs, North Carolina State University