By Adam McGhee,
Online programs in the Department of Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences continue to be a “Best Buy” (aub.ie/qum4ec) among science-based programs for out of state students. Low, flat-rate tuition paired with quality instruction, diverse faculty and dedicated support staff make Auburn University’s College of Agriculture the most affordable option for out-of-state students. Asynchronous learning makes it a great fit for nontraditional students, working professionals, international students, or those working to fit a class or two into their already busy schedules.
In the past five years, enrollment in online CSES programs has more than doubled to around 75 active students. Indeed, online enrollments now account for over half of the Department’s total graduate student population. This continued growth is fueled by attractive tuition options, Auburn’s brand power, and broad range of faculty specialties. These specialties range in topics such as environmental science, soils, nutrition, herbicides, genetics, forages, precision agriculture, and row crops. The flexible curriculum map permits students to reach out to other departments or colleges on campus. Options like this allow students and their advisors to fine tune custom curriculums based on the student’s own career, academic, or research goals.
Students who are interested in a Ph.D. or are working in a research area may consider the Master of Science (M.S.) option. This 30-hour program requires a full thesis appropriate for publishing. The additional work can provide a significant jumping off point for those looking to expand their projects to dissertation research. The more application-based Master of Agriculture (M.Ag.) is also 30 hours but does not require a thesis project. About 90% of students currently in online programs are seeking the non-thesis option. All students admitted to degree programs are assigned to a designated faculty advisor to oversee course selection and project progress. This work culminates in a seminar presentation (aub.ie/seminar) near the end of each program. Alternately, the new Graduate Certificate in Crop and Soil Science is a 15-hour program that requires no project or seminar at all. The certificate is popular among those who need hours to qualify for licensure/promotion but are not looking to complete a full degree. Interestingly, every one of our certificate students so far has converted to the full program once they got the first 15 hours done. This trend is a testament to the quality of instruction and support students experience. This experience is backed by dedicated support staff in the Department and industry-standard technology provided by the University.
Instructure Canvas remains a leader in online learning management systems. Intuitive navigation is simple for students to sort out and never leaves them looking for the right button to click. Panopto provides reliable and seamless lecture capture and delivery. This works well for both synchronous and asynchronous delivery. Faculty record their in-person lectures and/or dedicated session or online groups. HonorLock provides on-demand and virtual exam proctoring free of charge to students. There is no scheduling with proctors or driving to a test center. Students test on their own time, in their own space, and with their own computer.
The outlook is promising for online programs in the College of Agriculture. We continue to recruit highly qualified and motivated professionals to pair with faculty. Students and faculty seem encouraged by a stream of new course offerings, exciting new technologies, diverse student backgrounds and strong academic/technical support.