Future Tense

Yale Is Starting an Online Physician Assistant Master’s Degree Program

Yale in 2008.

Photo by Christopher Capozziello/Getty Images

Online education is gaining credibility, and MOOCs seem to be finding their footing, after burning bright and then sort of flaming out. So perhaps it’s no surprise that Yale announced an online physician assistant master’s program on Tuesday, but it certainly shows that these types of programs are becoming increasingly ambitious.

The new Yale master of medical science degree will have the same prerequisites and same tuition as the on-campus version—$83,162 for 28 months—and the university says it will be just as rigorous. Yale is collaborating (and splitting revenue) with the online education company 2U, which will coordinate medical rotations for students. Currently Yale accepts fewer than 40 students into its physician-assistant program, but by adding the online track, the school hopes to bring that number up to about 360 students within five years, the Wall Street Journal reports.*

Program director James Van Rhee explained in a statement how the course of study will go:

PA program students could come to campus during the first week or two in the program to experience Yale. Then at the end of the first year, they would come back to learn clinical skills and again at the end of the clinical year to do testing. A distant student could also do a rotation at Yale New Haven Hospital.

And 2U says that it has experience placing students in rigorous training environments for similar disciplines like nursing and social work. This sounds like a sort of nebulous way to offer training that could leave opportunities for students to slip through the cracks, but 2U and Yale seem adamant that they can hold students accountable. Lawrence Herman, the chairman of the board of the American Academy of Physician Assistants, told the Journal that online programs aren’t a shortcut, since students still have to do thousands of hours of hands-on training to get certified.

One question is how 2U and companies like it will expand, given that big names like Yale probably won’t want contractors taking their elite education to other schools. This tension has already appeared with online curriculae and courses created by textbook companies and sold to multiple schools.
Lindsey Hamlin, the director of continuing and distance education at South Dakota State University, told Slate in September that “these types of courses are really easy to implement. Yes, they are created by other professors. But the content is really good.”

As for 2U’s motivation to partner with a top school like Yale, CEO Chip Paucek told Fast Company, “We needed the will of a great institution to make these [online] students the real deal, make them equal … Why should they be second-class citizens?”

*Correction, March 12, 2015: This post originally misstated that an article about the Yale-2U collaboration was published in the Washington Post. It was actually published in the Wall Street Journal.