Online Master’s Degree Programs Cater to Working Professionals
Online Master’s Degree Programs Cater to Working Professionals

by Jackie Hennessey
Communications and Public Affairs Writer/Editor

Kelly Walsh ’03 is a lieutenant in the Avon Police Department. She’s been with the department since she graduated from UNH, and for quite some time she wanted to pursue a master’s degree to increase her chances for career advancement. But with 10- to 12-hour work days and family commitments, she didn’t see how she could manage it.

When Walsh discovered last fall that UNH was offering its first completely online graduate program in criminal justice, she jumped right in.

UNH has introduced completely online programs in sports management and criminal justice.

She immediately liked that the program offered courses that run for seven weeks and the flexibility to do her course work late into the night, on the weekends or even from her phone during down time.  “I am more of an in-class student, but with my work schedule, it was not going to happen,” she said. “I felt that if I signed up to attend classes, I would be wasting money because I most likely wouldn't be able to get to half the classes.”

Vibrant, engaged online discussion boards, group projects and constant feedback from faculty “give the program a classroom feel,” Walsh said. “I feel I participate more in the class than I would if I were there in the classroom, and I am challenged more.”

Often at her police department’s command staff meetings, Walsh shares what she has learned in her “Theories of Criminal Behavior” class and said the course work in “Quantitative Applications” relates directly to her work. “My entire experience has been nothing but positive,” she said. “I continue to spread the word to fellow law enforcement officers and management staff.”

This spring, the University introduced a completely online master’s degree program in sports management. Marsha Ham, associate vice president and dean of the College of Lifelong & eLearning, said the University chose criminal justice and sports management as the first to be offered completely online because they are renowned and pioneering programs.

“Many individuals who would like to move forward in their sports-related careers by completing a master’s degree are unable to travel or move to campus to complete the degree,” Ham said. “We are offering students the quality of a UNH degree in sports management online so that they can prepare themselves to become leaders in the sports industry without having to leave their current position or location.”

Both degrees consist of 36 credits of coursework, which can be completed in two years. Students in the online sports management program can specialize in areas such as management, technology or sports analytics. In the criminal justice program, students can earn graduate certificates in criminal justice management, forensic computer investigation or victim services and advocacy as part of their master’s degree.

The number of people pursuing master’s degrees in the United States is up 43 percent from 2002 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Interest in UNH’s online offerings also continues to grow. Bonnie Riedinger, director of eLearning, is working with faculty across the University to develop more online courses on the undergraduate and graduate levels, online summer classes and courses for students studying at the University’s satellite campus in Prato, Italy.

Riedinger said online courses offer excellent preparation for the globally connected working world as students are challenged to become self-directed learners. “There is support and guidance for faculty and students who want to learn online,” she said.  “In addition to tutorials on how to use technology, there are materials for students about how to learn best online and support systems in place to help students and faculty succeed.”

Wes Younts, program coordinator of the online criminal justice master’s program, said current students include professionals with three to 10 years of experience working in law enforcement, corrections, the court system, or as victims’ advocates who are seeking career advancement; students with bachelor’s degrees in other areas whose life experiences have led them to want to transition to a career in criminal justice; and others who are working in caretaker roles at mental health facilities and halfway houses who are pursuing a career change.

Younts said one of his major goals is maintaining the rigor of UNH’s nationally recognized criminal justice program.

“Now that we have established a solid ‘template’ for courses in the program, we are very excited about showcasing the tremendous real-world experience of our renowned faculty in the FBI, Secret Service, state and local law enforcement agencies, the Connecticut State’s Attorney office and various victims’ service providers,” Younts said.

“This is the truly distinctive character of the criminal justice program at UNH,” he said. “Our faculty members are academics with authentic experience in the subject matter they teach. Who better to learn from than those who have lived it?”

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