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SU Newhouse School's online startup: Is earning a master's degree @ home the future? (

Originally published by Syracuse Post-Standard / Written by Dave Tobin.

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Several hundred more students a year could soon be pursuing a master's degree from Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.

The school is launching it first-ever online digital media master's degree, aiming to enroll several hundred students. For a school that now enrolls some 260 master's and doctoral students a year, the impact could be significant, offering a financial boon for the school.

Currently the school receives some 750 to 1,000 applications each year for 250 spots in its residential master's degree program on campus, according to the school's website.

The first class online cohort will start in July. Registration is now open.

The program is being called Communications@Syracuse, and will be directed by Anthony Rotolo, who left SU's iSchool last year to join Newhouse to start up and direct this program, he said.

Rotolo, 34, a native of Rome, is something of a celebrity on campus and beyond. He has taught a course on Star Trek, and is currently teaching a free, non-credit course on Doctor Who, a kind of hybrid massive open online course, or MOOC. Rotolo's Newhouse profile describes him as "a technologist and futurist ... a leading expert on digital technologies, including social media and 3-D printing." He has spoken on technology at the United States Senate, NASA's Johnson Space Center, the South by Southwest Interactive Festival and the Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas.

The Doctor Who class, or #WhoClass on Twitter, has some 200 students who attend weekly, half of whom are not SU students, Rotolo said. Another 3,000 are registered to take it online. As a free class, it is a kind of marketing sampler of what Newhouse could offer in its full, paid version graduate program, said Rotolo.

"It gives a taste of what we can do," he said.

David Rubin, former dean of Newhouse, will co-teach the First Amendment Law course in the online program.

"I think it will clearly extend the Newhouse brand to people who cannot or choose not to enroll for the residential program," he said. "If the program is of high quality, it will enhance the brand. If not, it won't. We intend that it will."

For the new graduate program, Newhouse is partnering with 2U, Inc., a publicly traded provider of online programs.

SU's Martin J. Whitman School of Management began partnering this month with 2U, offering an online MBA degree program. Whitman's new MBA with 2U has a first class of 108.

SU's online graduate programs charge the same tuition or more than the on-campus rate of $1,341 per credit. Whitman charges the same. Newhouse's rate will be $1,818 per credit, or $60,000 for the 33 credit-hour degree.

There's no semester-long housing cost and no on-campus fees for technology or health services. But there will be travel and lodging costs for Newhouse's program, which will require two long weekends a year, one at Syracuse and one in another city, likely New York, said Rotolo.

The Newhouse program will operate in 11-week sessions, in which students can take one or two classes. New students can start during any of those sessions, Rotolo said. Newhouse faculty will teach all the classes. Students will be required to log in at least once a week at a specific time to participate in a real-time class.

All classes, whether focusing on multimedia storytelling, social media or digital communications systems, will have a "huge digital emphasis," said Rotolo.

2U incorporated in 2008. SU is one of 12 schools it works with, which includes the University of Southrn California, Northwestern University, Georgetown University and Washington University in St. Louis School of Law, where SU's Chancellor Kent Syverud was dean before coming to SU.

The company helps market the online programs, recruit students, develop content and provide support to faculty and students. It also facilitates in-program field placements, student immersions and other student enrichment experiences, according to a company report. The company estimates the average time from a student's initial enrollment to graduation is roughly 2.5 years. Eighty-two percent of students who began in any 2U program have graduated or are still pursuing their degree.

The company has incurred significant net losses since its inception, with an accumulated deficit of $124.8 million as of Sept. 30, 2014, according to a report.

"We will need to generate and sustain increased revenue levels in future periods to become profitable, and, even if we do, we may not be able to maintain or increase our level of profitability," the company wrote in a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

The Newhouse program will be 2U's first graduate offering in digital media.

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