Your Degree Your Way

New online graduate degree programs help students achieve life balance

Photo: Mike Peters

For many adults, a graduate degree is a dream that becomes further out of reach as the demands of daily life pile up. Work, family obligations and paying the bills make it difficult to even think about going back to school.

To help make that dream a reality, Montclair State has taken two of its established master’s degree programs and put them fully online, so students can get the same quality degree at home that they can on campus: an MA in Child Advocacy and Policy and an MA in Educational Leadership.

“This is an exciting initiative for the University,” says Jamieson A. Bilella, associate dean for Extended Learning and Special Academic Programs. “The expansion of the University’s offerings online provides students outside the University’s traditional geographic reach the opportunity to receive the same degree as their on-campus peers, with the same faculty, and is ideal for working professionals.”

With these quality online programs, the University, which has offered online courses since 2008, is riding the wave of a growing trend in higher education today. Additional degree programs are planned for the future to meet the demands of the accelerating workplace and the needs of students.

Dean of The Graduate School, Joan Ficke, points out that the flexibility of online learning is particularly attractive to graduate students. “Graduate students tend to be working professionals; driving to campus just doesn’t work for them,” she says. “Online programs are attractive to people who may not be free until 10:30 p.m.”

Online courses and degree programs have also become increasingly popular because many younger graduate students are most comfortable using their computers to study and learn. For many recent graduates, even those without the demands of career and family, online programs hold appeal. “People are much more used to the technology now and are comfortable with online learning,” Ficke says. “In fact, many prefer it. When I attend conventions and seminars, the most common question is, ‘What are your online programs?’”

Bilella agrees, noting that one factor behind the move into online degree programs was the popularity of the University’s many online courses. “We constantly survey our students to determine their satisfaction level with online learning, and they tell us they’d like to see additional online courses. Faculty resources for online teaching and development have also been increased. The natural next step in this progression is the delivery of fully online programs.”

In choosing the master’s programs in Child Advocacy and Policy and in Educational Leadership, the University is putting its best foot forward, Bilella says. “These programs represent areas for which the University has a solid reputation for excellence, and in which it is a state and national leader.”

“Our master’s in Child Advocacy and Policy program is unique in New Jersey and we will be the first to offer the program online,” says Bilella. “Educational Leadership was chosen because of Montclair State’s reputation within the educational field, and because of the statewide demand for these programs.”

Bilella notes that an advantage of the Child Advocacy online master’s program is that it builds on the University’s post-baccalaureate certificate program in the same field. The certificate program is already delivered online, and the certificate program and the master's degree program have the first five courses in common.

“Those who have either completed the Child Advocacy certificate or are in the process of doing so can easily apply to The Graduate School for the master’s degree program,” Bilella says. “Since the five courses they’ve already completed will go right into their master’s degree, those students have the opportunity to complete their MA in about three semesters.”

The programs are sequenced during the spring, summer and fall semesters. Since they are graduate programs, students must gain acceptance into The Graduate School in order to enroll. Admission is selective and an applicant’s aptitude for online learning will be taken into consideration. “Online programs are not for everyone,” says Bilella. “It takes people who have maturity and self-discipline to be successful in online learning.”

Initially, the new online programs will be available to those who live in New Jersey, New York, Texas, Georgia, Idaho and Utah, where there is high demand for these degrees. Because of the University’s regional accreditation status and curriculum standards, those states have granted exemptions to allow the University to offer the programs there. “The regulations are very complicated,” Bilella says. “We continue to identify additional states that are a fit for our programs and which meet the education needs of their constituents.”

As with traditional degrees, Ficke emphasizes, the key to successful online programs is quality. “Montclair State has a reputation for delivering quality programs, and the University and faculty have worked hard to ensure that quality translates into the online delivery,” she says. “While some other institutions may have moved quickly to offer online programs before us, we chose to wait until we were sure the programs measured up to our standards of excellence.”

Learn more about the programs and about online learning at, where there is also a “Guide to Becoming a Successful Online Learner.”