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The Development Of An On Line Systems Engineering Program: Lessons Learned

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Systems Engineering Programs and Curricula

Tagged Division

Systems Engineering Constituent Committee

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.1199.1 - 14.1199.10



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Paper Authors

author page

James Nemes Pennsylvania State University, Great Valley

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract



A survey by the Sloan consortium1 has shown that enrollments in online programs are growing at rates that far surpass the rate of growth for the broader student population. The vast majority of these students, however, are taking undergraduate courses and this is the area experiencing the highest rate of growth. Engineering programs have the lowest penetration rates with only 16% of institutions with engineering programs reporting having a fully online program, compared to 33 percent for business, although penetration rates for doctoral/research institutions is somewhat higher. Expanding the geographic reach to students is the primary reason for institutions to enter online education, although the Sloan study reports that 85 percent of students come from within 50 miles of campus, which they classify as local or from the state or surrounding states which they classify as regional.

Given that backdrop, what makes a master’s program in systems engineering a good candidate to be developed as an online program? First, it should be noted that systems engineering is a relatively young discipline compared to the other engineering disciplines and one that might be considered a ‘niche’ discipline, with appeal primarily to those in the aerospace and defense industries. According to Fabrycky2 there are 27 so called ‘systems- engineering centric’ master’s programs in the United States, meaning systems engineering alone rather than systems and industrial engineering or systems and electrical engineering, etc. That number represents a small fraction of master’s programs in the more traditional engineering fields. An even smaller fraction of those programs are available in a fully online mode of delivery. Given those statistics, it seems there should be a significant opportunity to expand the geographic reach of a master’s program in systems engineering well beyond what was found for the typical program in the Sloan study. As a professional discipline, students interested in pursuing a master’s in systems engineering tend to be working full-time and interested in pursuing a degree part-time. Many have worked for a number of years, assuming positions of responsibility within their organization which may require significant travel. Also, these students tend to be older, having reached an age where many have family responsibilities. These factors all make a fully online program an appealing alternative to traditional, blended, or hybrid programs. With this background, a decision was made in early 2007 to complement Penn State University’s resident Master of Engineering in Systems Engineering program with one that is fully online. Reaching such a decision was only possible due to Penn State University’s strong institutional commitment to distance education and successful record in delivering it. This paper describes key decision points along the way and provides an assessment of lessons learned to date.

Nemes, J. (2009, June), The Development Of An On Line Systems Engineering Program: Lessons Learned Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5601

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