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Question: What Is a Master of Professional Studies Degree?

Answer: A Master of Professional Studies, or MPS, degree offers practical as well as conceptual education and training for students looking to advance in a particular field. These programs are often interdisciplinary and usually involve training in leadership and management, as well as in specific advanced skills that prepare graduates to fill particular niches in an industry.

Master of Professional Studies (MPS) degrees are usually pursued by people already in the workforce who want to build on their existing expertise and a gain a specific skillset in order to advance their careers. A MPS program offers practical as well as theoretical education and training for students looking to advance in a particular field. These programs are often interdisciplinary and usually involve training in management and in advanced practical skills that have applications in fields such as cybersecurity, communications, health, human resources, and even horticulture.

Many universities and colleges have entire professional studies departments that include Master of Science (MS) and Master of Art (MA) degrees. These programs, also meant to train working professionals, often have curricula and goals similar to those of a MPS program.

Online MPS Curriculum

MPS programs tend to draw from coursework in arts and sciences, and often feature adjunct professors who are experts working in the field. MPS programs generally require a capstone combining knowledge and hands-on work, such as creating a marketing plan for a real business, although some final projects are research based. Because students often pursue MPS degrees to prepare for specific promotions, job opportunities, or career paths, some schools allow students to propose their own plan toward a professional studies degree, pulling from multiple disciplines.

MPS students tend to be working adults, a cohort that often benefits from the option of online education. Consequently, several schools offer online professional studies degrees across a variety of subject areas. While some programs are available in online-only format, others are offered face-to-face, or as a hybrid of the two. Because the online programs are designed to be flexible, students can often accelerate their time frame, or slow it down, depending on their needs. As a result, MPS degrees can take anywhere from one=to-five years to complete, depending on the student-determined pace, though there are some structured two-year programs designed to accommodate people who work full-time, often via the inclusion of asynchronous learning modules. Because of the practical nature of the coursework, some programs require or at least offer a residency or internship. It’s important for students to ensure that they may meet such requirements at a business or facility close to home.

Online MPS in Management/Leadership

Advancing in any career often involves managing people and resources. Earning an MPS degree is one route to gain the skills and knowledge necessary to do so. Students seeking an MPS degree generally have experience working in the industry in which they want to advance, but require or desire additional knowledge. Through conceptual, research, and practical assignments, MPS students learn new hard skills, such as managing finances, as well as soft skills, such as motivating employees. MPS in management or leadership degrees can be a good fit for students seeking practical, transferable leadership and management knowledge. That said, many universities offer programs designed more squarely for advancement within specific fields, including health, cybersecurity, human resources, and law.

The MPS in Management/Leadership Curriculum

These programs generally include courses in ethics, management, and finances with each plank geared toward the student’s field of choice. Many programs are designed to help students develop critical thinking problem-solving skills, as well as interpersonal skills to manage and motivate people. They also often combine traditional master’s themes of research and statistical analysis, although to a lesser extent than an MS program. An MPS in management program may also specialize in running specific projects, with courses focused on initiating those projects and managing risk.

Online MPS in Cybersecurity

MPS in cybersecurity students are working professionals in computer science or information systems jobs. Students in these programs learn about developing technologies and the threats posed to these technologies by cyber attacks. These programs provide students with practical knowledge about protecting information systems and computer networks, while preparing students for leadership and management positions in government and private-sector security fields. The degree may also prepare students for careers making and implementing information security policy.

Online MPS in Cybersecurity Curriculum

MPS in cybersecurity programs lay the groundwork for advanced cybersecurity knowledge. Students learn how to assess potential threats and investigate breaches using digital forensics tools. Students also learn best practices for protecting information through a variety of means, including cryptography. Along with the practical aspects of protecting networks, coursework may include the more conceptual study of law and policy as it relates to cybercrime. In preparation for careers in defense, students may also learn about issues related to cyber warfare, including developments, technologies, policy, and strategy.

Online MPS in Homeland Security

While the term homeland security generally refers to subject matter dealt with by the federal government and its contractors, the field is becoming more commonly used at the state and local levels as well as the private sector, according to Penn State World Campus, which has a robust MPS in homeland security program. Homeland security can overlap significantly with cybersecurity but includes protecting both people and infrastructure, such as energy production facilities, water distribution systems, and agriculture. Students in these fields generally have experience working in public safety, public infrastructure, public health, emergency response, the military or private security, and are seeking to advance in those careers or move into policy work.

Online MPS in Homeland Security Curriculum

Coursework includes learning about the history of homeland security as well as existing global and national threats, such as terrorism and natural disasters. Students receive theoretical and practical training in several areas. The theory portion of the coursework includes strategies and tactics as well as legal, constitutional, and ethical issues related to working in homeland security, preparing students to lead an organization or department, and to work with policy. Practical skills include managing a budget and finances as well as learning to gather and analyze data. Students will learn how to prepare for hypothetical disasters, as well as how to implement their plan and communicate once one hits.

The Trend Toward Master in Professional Studies Programs

The number of master’s students of all kinds has “exploded” in the past 20 years, and the trend is expected to continue, according to a report by the Education Advisory Board (EAB), which advises academic institutions and leaders. While experts expect master’s degrees to equal almost one-third of all degrees awarded by 2022, the EAB report postulates a shift from MBAs, JDs and MEds towards MPS degrees to accommodate a changing workforce. The shift, the report suggests, will better serve students and businesses looking for workers because these degrees can be designed to fit specific “niches” in industry, meaning students can train for specific skills, which can be targeted for industry needs as they arise.

Many schools are adding online courses to their curriculum and at least offer hybrid programs mixing online and in-person coursework. Others, though, are making a stronger push to develop robust programs allowing students to obtain master’s degrees in professional studies entirely online, including Penn State World Campus, George Washington University, and Georgetown University. Below are ten MPS degree programs in a range of fields, not limited to those discussed above.

  • Homeland Security: Penn State World Campus
  • Publishing: George Washington University
  • Technology Entrepreneurship: University of Maryland MTech
  • Strategic Leadership: University of Memphis
  • Informatics: Northeastern University
  • Training and Development: Eastern Tennessee State University
  • Technology Management: Georgetown University
  • Applied Communication: Missouri State University
  • Horticulture: Cornell University
  • Cybersecurity: Fort Hays State University

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