UC Irvine is proposing a new master's degree program in criminology that would offer the first online graduate degree in the University of California system, campus officials said Thursday.
"The idea is to provide an advanced degree in a way that's more accessible," Karen Morris, a spokeswoman for the Irvine campus, said of the proposed online graduate program in criminology, law and society. "A lot of people are in the work force--they don't have the time or money to go back to grad school for a master's degree for two or three years. This is a way for them to get the same quality course work but do it via the Internet."
The proposed program--which administrators hope to begin offering next summer--was approved by UCI's Academic Senate in May. A committee of the systemwide Academic Senate is expected to consider it in October or November, said Chuck McFadden, a spokesman for the UC president's office in Oakland, after which it must be approved by the university's statewide provost, C. Judson King.
"I'm not aware of any opposition to the proposal," McFadden said Thursday. "The university has a three-part mission--research, education and public service--and this certainly falls into at least two of those."
The program would enroll about 45 graduate students, most likely working professionals in the fields of corrections, probation, law enforcement, criminal prosecution or defense and civil law. They would spend two years earning master's degrees in criminology, law and society by taking courses such as Crime and Social Deviance, Hate Crimes and Ethics in Policing.
Unlike traditional students who attend lectures and meet with peers and professors, however, they would do the bulk of their work via home computers and the Internet.
"Everything they do will be online," said Henry Pontell, former chairman of the university's criminology, law and society department and one of the prime architects of the proposed graduate program. "That would include picking the classes they want, applying for financial aid, registering, asking questions and getting study guides. Everything that a regular on-campus student does will be done by computer."
Among other things, he said, the course work would probably involve streaming online videos of lectures or other material, electronic books, homework assignments given and returned by e-mail and online class discussions or conferences, both live and by electronic postings.
"The most recent evidence," Pontell said, "shows that if these courses are done in a quality manner, we can do much more online than we can, in many respects, face to face in a large classroom."
Though recent years have seen an explosion in such virtual educational offerings nationwide, with at least one in three U.S. colleges now offering some sort of accredited degree online, the University of California has been slow in following that trend.
Some UC campuses offer courses online but not a full degree program. UCLA is planning an online program in film that does not lead to a degree.
"The best universities in the country have already started this," Pontell said, "and UC doesn't have one yet. What does that tell you? We need to move in this area if we're not going to be left out entirely."
Although the cost to students for the proposed graduate degree program is still being worked out, he said, it is likely to be less than what on-campus students pay when expenses for commuting and parking or living in dorms are taken into account.
"We are very excited about this," Pontell said. "We think it will make a quality degree that much more accessible."