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GIS education through distance learning: Penn State University

October 4, 2011

As I continue to look at online post-graduate GIS programs, I’m pleased to have found a school that is not solely focused on one area of GIS.  Penn State University (PSU) offers a rich selection of GIS and geospatial programs and courses.  Unlike some schools that focus their attention on one or two areas of application, once you have a foundation of GIS knowledge, PSU has something for everyone in terms of the electives you can pursue to reflect your area of interest.  You should also note that these are not ‘online’ degrees.  They are PSU Certificate and Master’s degree programs equal to those earned on-campus.  Here are the three main programs they offer: 

1.    Postbaccalaureate Certificate in GIS
2.    Postbaccalaureate Graduate Certificate in Geospatial Intelligence
3.    Master of GIS

If you are a busy professional and would like to develop particular skills but don’t want to complete an entire program, PSU allows students to take a course as a one-off.  That stated, let’s begin with the GIS Certificate program.  PSU has created a program that is flexible based on the needs of the student.  Students that are new to GIS can pursue the Traditional Track by taking three required core courses to build a base of GIS knowledge, and then one elective course in the area of most interest.  The three core courses include ‘The Nature of Geographic Information’, ‘Problem Solving with GIS’ and ‘GIS Database Development.’  Students who are certified or licensed professionals or who have significant experience can bypass these introductory courses and take more of the available elective courses to better reflect their professional focus.  In all, students should be able to complete the Certificate (four courses) in one year as each course takes 10 weeks.  The cost of the certificate program is approximately $7,900.  (11 credits @ $716 per credit).

Furthermore, should you be interested in working toward the PSU Master’s program, your credits from the Certificate program will be applied to it.  The Master’s program can be completed with a further 24 credits (35 total).  Each elective course is worth 3-credits, so you’ll complete 8 more courses to finish the program.  The approximate cost of tuition for the Master’s program is $25,000 (35 credits @ $716 per credit).  If a recent graduate, the Master's program requires that you take the GRE.  However, the GRE requirement can be waived if you received your degree more than five years ago  (What’s the GRE?)

A partial selection of PSU elective course titles include: ‘GIS Programming and Customization’, ‘Cartography and Visualization’, ‘Environmental Applications of GIS’, Acquiring and Integrating Geospatial Data’, ‘Location Intelligence for Business’, ‘GIS Application Development’, ‘LIDAR Technology and Applications’, ‘Conservation GIS’, ‘Planning GIS for Emergency Management’, ‘GIS for Management of Health’, ‘GPS and GNSS for Geospatial Professionals’, ‘GIS Mashups for Geospatial Professionals’, ‘Professionalism in GIS&T’, ‘Remote Sensing for the Geospatial Intelligence Professional’ and ‘Introduction to SAS.’  For a full list of available online courses, click here to view the full PSU GIS course calendar.

PSU also offers a Geospatial Intelligence (GEOINT) Certificate.  This is unique in that it is the only online program of its kind accredited by the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation.  This Certificate was designed to stand alone or as a step up to the Master’s GIS Program or a Master’s of Professional Studies in Homeland Security.  The GEOINT Certificate is attained through five courses.  First the program teaches the foundations of Geospatial Intelligence.  Students then take one of two required GIS courses, and one of two required Remote Sensing courses.  Finally, students take an elective of their choice and then earn a final credit involving professional integration.  Tuition for the GEOINT certificate is approximately $9,300 (13 credits @ $716).

The PSU GIS website helps graduates find and connect with local alumni around the continent using an online interactive map with the approximate locations of past program graduates.  This is certainly a bonus for recent and future program graduates to begin to extend their own professional network, which can only help efforts to secure employment related to GIS.
If you are interested in any of these GIS programs, I’ll leave you with a little tip.  PSU offers their distance learning through what they call their ‘World Campus.’  While this is how PSU online programs are marketed, it is best to use the PSU GIS website for the most up-to-date information on the programs, courses and schedules.  Click here for the PSU GIS website,