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New online law degree offers affordability and convenience

Compiled by Rachel Lowry

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, May 29 2012 11:42 a.m. MDT

For a select group of students attending Washington University Law School, classes will be no farther away than a laptop.

On Tuesday, the Washington University Law School announced an online master's degree program in U.S. law, reported Tamar Lewin of the New York Times. Partnering with 2tor, a higher education technology syndicate, the program is "perhaps the earliest partnership between a top-tier law school and a commercial enterprise," Lewin wrote. There are pros and cons to this experimental model, he added.

This program, similar to other online education initiatives at Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, boast convenience, replication and, most advantageously, affordability. Mark C. Taylor at Bloomberg reported, "This reconfiguration of courses gives students more freedom and creates the possibility of decreasing the time necessary to complete a college degree, thereby lowering the cost of a college education."

While the program is reputable, it is not yet equivalent to a traditional law degree, according to the article. "About a dozen states allow some Master of Law holders to qualify for the bar exam, but in New York, those with master's degrees are not eligible if they earned the degree online," Lewin wrote.

But "with the advent of online degrees," Gayle Murphy, senior executive of the California committee of bar examiners, observed, "those guidelines might be revisited," reported Lewin.

According to Mary Carmichael at the Boston Globe, this "burgeoning movement" is getting an endorsement "that may have an even greater impact (than expansion): rigorous evidence that the computer can be as effective as the classroom."

On Tuesday, Ithaka S+R, a nonprofit technology company, will release a new study supporting online learning. The study "compared two versions of an introductory statistics course, one taught face to face by professors and one mostly taught online with only an hour a week of face time. Researchers found students fared equally well in both formats on every measure of learning. The only difference was that the online group appeared to learn faster," Carmichael said.

Bloomberg reported on another study showing that "in 2009, about 29 percent of college students took at least one course online; by 2014, that number is projected to increase to 50 percent. Much of this growth has been driven by for-profit schools, but in the past couple of years, traditional colleges and universities have designed their own programs in an effort to increase tuition income without expanding the physical plant. It remains to be seen whether this financial bet will pay off."

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