For the first time, the oldest graduate program at the University of Michigan- Flint — Master of Arts in Liberal Studies — will be available for students in an entirely online format. The program will be implemented this fall.

The new structure of the program was conceptualized in an effort to provide the flexibility and tools necessary for working adults to pursue an interdisciplinary graduate degree either full time or part time.

Established in 1977 as a Rackham Graduate School initiative, the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program consists of 33 semester hours of graduate work focused on a broad variety of topics in American history and culture, encouraging students to explore and analyze issues associated with national identity, such as race, gender, politics and religion. In addition, each student must complete a thesis and present it to a panel of faculty and peers during the student’s final semester.

Currently, all core courses are available online as well as 25 approved elective courses. An increasing amount of elective courses will be available online in coming semesters.

Jan Furman, director of the Liberal Studies program, spoke about how transitioning to an online curriculum is helping to broaden educational opportunities.

“It’s a part of making graduate education available, accessible and more democratic,” Furman said. “The wonderful thing about the program is the curricular flexibility because we can work with students to fine-tune a curriculum that meets their goals, but we’re now at a place where we need to modernize our delivery. If we still want to reach working adults, then the most effective way of doing that is through online instruction.”

Frederic Svoboda, a professor in American literature, film and culture, added that the interactive online format is a great way to draw in active learners and expand the program’s reach beyond the immediacy of campus.

“Really good students do just as well online because they’re very active, but the people in the middle are actually pulled in by the format and become more active, and what we’re hoping will happen, and what I think will happen with the Liberal Studies program online, is that we will get a group of very involved students or people who really want to become involved,” Svoboda said. “As soon as you put the program online, the students can be anywhere. It really broadens the market for the program, but it also allows people who otherwise can’t get to campus to still participate in the program.”

Drawn in by the diversity of course options available to Liberal Studies students, Emma Davis, who is also a lecturer and dance instructor at UM-Flint, enrolled in the program. She said the flexibility of the curriculum helps her tailor an education that fits her needs and that increased online offerings will help her meet those needs.

“With Liberal Studies, I was able to bring my interest in dance, community work and writing all together to form my own graduate focus. I shaped my own program as opposed to entering a program where a strict agenda is in place,” she said. “A lot of people of are working, including myself, while in the program, so sometimes it can be hard to come straight from work and sit in class for three hours in the middle of the night. The cool thing about an online format is now work can be done at your own time and that really goes along with the independent nature of Liberal Studies.”

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