Engineering Online

One Ivy League college hopes to broaden career access with the first online master’s degree in engineering program

The first-of-its-kind degree program starting in the spring is designed to address a worker shortage in a crucial field

Dartmouth College has launched the first online Master of Engineering degree (online MEng). It’s the school’s first fully online degree, and the first for an Ivy League school.

The degree is designed to address a growing workforce shortage in the semiconductor industry. By 2030, the industry’s workforce will grow by nearly 115,000 jobs to 460,000 jobs. According to the current rate of those completing the necessary degrees, more than half of new semiconductor jobs won’t be filled.

“We have a distinctive approach to engineering,” says Alexis Abramson, Ph.D., dean of Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering. “We attract a lot of women and historically marginalized population to the engineering program. We feel like we offer this amazing educational product and really wanted to reach a broader audience.”

Online course provider Coursera partnered with Dartmouth to create the program. Unlike the quick shift to virtual learning schools worldwide were forced to make during the pandemic, the program’s format will not feature simple recorded lessons of a professor at a white board or lecture hall.

“This is an Ivy League degree at an incredibly affordable price from an engineering school that is first to achieve gender equity with deep commitment to equipping, accessing, and the attainment of engineering credentials. It’s all very important,” says Marni Baker Stein, Ph.D.,  chief content officer for Coursera.

“Adult working professionals in this country and around the world are still underserved by this type of educational experience that helps them be successful,” says Baker Stein. “There are a lot of online programs post-Covid, but we’re just scratching the surface to meet the needs of the learner population who, for many years, have been left out of advancing in their education and careers because they just can’t access flexible, affordable, and high-quality credentials to build their profiles.”

(l) Alexis Abramson, dean of Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering;
(r) Marni Baker Stein, chief content officer, Coursera

The program is described as “human-centered” and project-based, teaching how engineering can make a societal impact in the real world. Coding exercises will not be done simply for coding’s sake, according to Abramson. She offers examples such as developing an algorithm that relates to energy-efficient buildings; building a device that can be used in a sophisticated form like a neurotransmitter for the brain.

Lectures aren’t eliminated but in smaller snippets – a 10-minute lecture on machine learning, pivoting to an exercise, then a video or animated presentation, and back to the professor lecture. Just as in-person classes, hands-on experiences for online students will come in the form of kit experiments with teammates who could be halfway across the world. Students will receive instructions on how to operate within a team, conduct product exploration, meet with clients, and how to present.

Dartmouth and Coursera call this a more “curated” experience.

“We have millions of learners on our platform already pursuing tech, tech education, open course certificates, advance professional certificates. And to be able to harness that organic demand everywhere and illuminate pathways to degrees like at Dartmouth is a powerful partnership,” Baker Stein says.

She continues, “To have a more slightly flexible mission, recognize these students are working professionals with experience, and students who are proving themselves with sustained interest in an open platform creates a qualified pipeline. That creates really qualified engineers in a moment when we need them so desperately in this country and everywhere.”

How Do You Get Started?

The admission requirements are the same for the nine-course online master’s degree, but the cost is not. The on-campus program is in the $63,000 range including some fees, but not room and board. The online program is $44,100, with the option of paying per course.

With a full-time enrollment in the online program – which is two classes at a time – students can finish in 15 months. Taking one class per term will take 27 months. With the flexible format, students can take a break. Once they start, they have six years to complete the program.

With the application process open now, the first cohort is expected to start in spring 2024. Dartmouth would like to eventually see a couple hundred students enrolled each year. Nearly 100% of the school’s engineering masters and Ph.D. graduates get jobs within six months of getting their diplomas, with starting salaries of $123,600, according to Dartmouth. More than a quarter are promoted to C-suite roles within five to 10 years.

Abramson says they’ll be tracking similar outcomes for the new degree.

“A successful student will be one who graduates from the program and either pivots in their career or gets a new responsibility at current job but also ultimately success is five to 10 years from when they graduate, when they’ve had the kind of impact on industry and lives they are hoping to have,” she says.

“I just consider it an act of courage and real commitment to learner-centered education,” Baker Stein says. “It’s not easy. There’s a lot of change management. But this digital transformation at Dartmouth is critical to higher education in this country.”