Coding
File Photo

The Master of Computer and Information Technology (MCIT) program will be available online for graduate-level students as of spring 2019. The program is the first completely online degree that Penn has ever offered.

The online MCIT program acts as an online version of the on-campus MCIT degree that the School of Engineering and Applied Science has offered since 2001. Courses in the online program will be broken into short videos that are seven to 10 minutes long and include corresponding assessments. This format is opposed to the 80-minute lectures typical of some of the on-campus Engineering classes in the graduate school. 

The new program will be available to graduate students with or without a coding background at a total cost of $2,500 per course. The required curriculum includes six core classes and four electives. With the additional fees of $130, the total cost of the program adds up to $26,300. The cost of the standard, on-campus MCIT program is just over $6,500 per course. 

Penn's online program costs are steeper than those at peer institutions, such as Columbia University, which offers an online Master of Science in Computer Science for $2,018 per credit hour, and Drexel University, which offers an online Master of Science in Computer Science for $1,265 per credit.

The online MCIT co-Directors Chris Murphy and Sampath Kannan — a professor and associate professor in the Department of Computer & Information Science, respectively — said they are hoping the new program will make Penn's computer science courses accessible to more graduate-level students. 

“MCIT is hugely popular, yet we are unable to meet the demands of the many qualified students we cannot accept because of research constraints for an on-campus degree, like availability of lecture rooms of sufficient size, advising loads, and access to TAs, etc.," Kannan said. "That limits us from admitting all of the qualified students." 

Sampath Kannan

"We have made it our mission to allow this access to be broadened to people who are qualified but have life or economic constraints that prevent them from relocating to Philadelphia, quitting their jobs, and taking time off from work. So we see this [online degree] as a great way for us to take this very popular and in-demand program to lots of qualified people," he continued. 

Murphy and Kannan say there are several challenges they face in conducting online courses.

Chris Murphy

“One of the biggest questions we faced with this online program was, 'How do we create a supportive and inclusive community of students online like we have on campus?'” Murphy said. “We want you to feel like you are in the program with all the other students, even if you are not all located together.” 

Kannan said other challenges include ensuring students complete assignments without direct classroom interaction, as well as the challenge of evaluating student performance for a grade. 

"Each thing we do on campus we have to find the absolute best equivalent for it online," Kannan said. 

Engineering sophomore Grace Chong, who serves on the executive board of the student organization Computer Science Society, said the online MCIT program is a positive step for the University. 

"Computer science is definitely a field that one can master without necessarily being in a classroom,” Chong said. “Computer science is a ‘learn by doing’ subject, and as long as you have the resources and you're always challenging yourself with new projects, you can pick up the subject.”

Murphy said the on-campus MCIT program has typically accepted around 11 percent of its applicants in past years, and they plan to enroll a similar share of applicants for the online program. 

In recent years, computer science has become increasingly popular on college campuses. At Penn alone, the number of computer science majors in the School of Engineering and Applied Science has tripled within the last 10 years, from 250 majors in 2007 to 800 majors in 2017 across the undergraduate student body. 

The number of CIS majors across universities nationwide has also more than doubled since 2011 and more than tripled since 2006, according to the Computing Research Association. 

The early admissions deadline for the MCIT Online is Sept. 6. Regular admissions deadline is Nov. 8. 

All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.