If you look at the major college guides for distance learners, it can seem like there is nothing but business degrees and related disciplines (computers, marketing, etc.) at both the graduate and undergraduate level. This is followed closely by programs within education, more typically at the graduate level. This is due primarily to others wanting to copy what has been successful in the past. While that may have worked well in 2000, it is not a recipe for success in 2008. The word “disaster” comes to mind.
However, there is some hope for students. Innovative programs are popping up in other areas. There are schools out there considering that less-traveled road. I have long said that there are far too many of certain kinds of online programs and not enough of others. Want to earn a business degree? Easy. Want to earn a degree in education? Simple. How about an MBA? Piece of cake.
What about one in English? Surprisingly, there are many fewer offerings. How about a true computer science degree (as opposed to all the related fields)? Not so many. Consider an online Master of Divinity for potential pastors? Very, very few choices. Given the crowded market, schools owe it to themselves to look not for what is already out there, but for where they can compete successfully. There are, though, positive examples of universities doing that very thing.
Fresno Pacific University has recently announced that it is taking its well-regarded library media program online. Beginning in May 2008, students will be able to earn a school library media teacher (“school librarian”) credential or the Master of Arts in Education: School Library & Information Technology in an entirely 100% online fashion. Earning the credential is the most common route toward becoming a school librarian. Importantly, competition is scarce. Yes, there are other programs doing similar ventures, but there is still plenty of space for growth.
I would encourage colleges and universities to consider carefully what types of programs that they want to bring online. Then go out and buy a copy of the latest Bears’ Guide to Earning Degrees by Distance Learning. If there are too many entries under that program, move along. It’s not worth your time and effort.
I predict success for programs like Fresno Pacific University’s online library media one precisely because it is still possible to carve out a niche in that field. It borders on the insane to attempt yet another Master of Business Administration when the current offerings can and have filled a book.
As we sometimes tell children, it is truly okay to be different. Really.