Online Education Gains Momentum at Syracuse with Innovative Programs

The first-of-its-kind program for Newhouse emphasizes digital trends and innovation within the communications industry.

The new online master’s program, Communications@Syracuse, emphasizes digital trends and innovation within the communications industry. It was developed in partnership with 2U Inc., which provides a highly interactive experience.

The Newhouse School receives thousands of applications every year from prospective students. One in particular recently stood out.

It was the first application to the school’s new online master’s program, Communications@​Syracuse—and it came just four hours after the Newhouse School announced the launch of the program in January.

The first-of-its-kind program for Newhouse emphasizes digital trends and innovation within the communications industry. It was developed in partnership with 2U Inc., a company that has partnered with a number of top-tier universities to help them provide online graduate programs that match the rigor and educational experience of traditional on-campus programs.

The immediate response to the Communications@Syracuse program was a welcome surprise and a nod to the untapped demand for a graduate degree from a distinguished professional school through an online format.

“We were thrilled there was such an immediate interest, and the response has been great,” says Amy Falkner, Newhouse School senior associate dean for academic affairs and professor of advertising.

By the second day, there were two applications submitted, 22 started applications and another 131 interested prospects. Within two weeks, there were 80 started applications.

“That says to me a couple of things: the Syracuse University brand is very strong and that there are people who are really craving to do a master’s degree online in a flexible way but they can’t figure out how to accomplish it,” Falkner says. “The holdup is they can’t physically get there. Now we’ve eliminated that.”

Inaugural cohort

The Newhouse online program is the third in partnership with 2U, which is also working with the Martin J. Whitman School of Management. In January, the Whitman School launched a new version of its online M.B.A. program, now known as MBA@Syracuse, welcoming an inaugural cohort of more than 100 students—the largest class in Whitman M.B.A. history. The school’s online master’s degree offering in professional accounting will kick off this summer.

In the School of Information Studies, all master’s degree programs and graduate certificates of advanced study, with a few exceptions, can be completed online. The College of Engineering and Computer Science also offers online master’s degree programs in computer engineering, electrical engineering and computer science.

The technology and enhanced modes of learning online are making it possible for more students—wherever in the world they may be—to have the Syracuse experience.

“It’s important for the University to reach out to audiences that don’t have the flexibility to come to Syracuse,” says Chris Sedore, senior vice president for enrollment management. “We have long had great educational programs for you if you can come to Syracuse for a master’s program. But if you’re in the middle of your career or otherwise place bound, we still want you to have the opportunity to earn a Syracuse master’s degree without having to relocate.”

Students in the new online degree programs can participate in active discussions with the professor and other students.

Students in the new online degree programs can participate in active discussions with the professor and other students.

Prospective students to the online programs may need the degree to update their skills, move up in their career or shift to a different career, but they aren’t able to place their job on hold or interrupt their personal lives to relocate to study on campus.

24 to 60 years old

Students in the first class of MBA@Syracuse hail from all across the United States and five different countries, with ages ranging from 24 to 60 years old, and representing professionals at different stages of their careers. The average age is 35 years old with 11 years of work experience.

“As I read application essays, I see so many people who write ‘I just know I need to get this degree in order for me to be considered for a position of greater responsibility or promotion,’” says Amy McHale, assistant dean for masters programs at the Whitman School.

School of Education Associate Professor Alan Foley says the cost of obtaining a four-year degree is also increasingly limiting access to higher education. “I would hope that Syracuse University approaches the development of online programs as a way to both improve access to education to students who face barriers in coming to campus, while also using them to enhance and support programs on campus,” says Foley, who is jointly appointed in the departments of Cultural Foundations of Education and Teaching and Leadership and is the coordinator of the Disability Studies Program and acting director of the Center on Human Policy.

To attract a variety of communications professionals, the Newhouse program offers three tracks—advertising, public relations and journalism innovation. The program features pieces from existing master’s programs, including such staples as media law and an applied research class, but was built to include new core courses, including "Introduction to Digital Communications," "Digital Communications Systems" and a capstone "Digital Communications Strategy and Entrepreneurship" course, as well as required courses in social media and multimedia storytelling.

Prospective students might be those who need to know how to manage digital communications but also might be asked to envision and develop new ideas in digital communications.

“They have to understand who their audiences are, how to talk to them and how to develop relevant content in a format or platform that will best reach their consumers,” Falkner says. “So analyzing emerging trends and projecting forward is an important piece of earning this degree.”

“Brady Bunch”-type screen

Geared toward active professionals, who also can access classes via a mobile app, the programs using 2U’s cloud-based platform provide live, interactive online classes where students can see the professor and all of the 12 to 15 other students taking the class in a “Brady Bunch”-type screen. Professors and students can talk to each other and ask questions; students can also be split into groups to mingle and come up with answers.

“This is not a static classroom,” says Falkner, who will also be teaching in the online program. “The hallmark of a Newhouse degree is the interaction between professor and student. This particular platform allows us to continue that great tradition of having that special connection between the professor and student.”

With its level of interactivity, the 2U partnership has allowed Syracuse to deliver an even higher quality online experience, McHale says.

The online degree programs also allow students to access their coursework through a mobile application.

The online degree programs also allow students to access their coursework through a mobile application.

In order to prepare for interactive sessions, each week students view content that has been pre-recorded, with professors giving an overview of each lesson. For the MBA@Syracuse, students spend approximately 90 minutes each week watching the pre-recorded materials and another 90 minutes in the live sessions.

The technology provided by 2U allows for this deeply engaged classroom setting.

“We are excited to be working with Syracuse University as they continue to embrace change and an entrepreneurial spirit through high-quality online education,” says Andrew Hermalyn, 2U’s executive vice president and general manager. “Our partnership will enable the University to bring its rigorous academic programs to high-achieving students around the world.”

Both the MBA@Syracuse and Communications@Syracuse programs also include a few weekend residencies that allow students to meet and network with professors and other students in person.

A quality experience

All of these elements add to the high quality of the overall program experience, which is crucial to determining whether programs can be done successfully online. A next step may be to see where those possibilities exist.

At the Whitman School, the M.B.A. has core courses that are also foundational for such degrees as the master’s in supply chain. “It certainly could be logical to extend into some of the areas in which we already have on-campus degrees because there is that core that is already built,” McHale says.

Administrators have to be strategic in determining which programs might be adaptable online. “At the graduate level, there are some programs that lend themselves well to an online format,” Sedore says. “I expect where we see opportunities for new online offerings, we will explore those and build them out where they make sense for the programs and the prospective students.”



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