A quick look at our guide to IT graduate programs interactive charts reveals that degree programs in computer science, information science, information systems and management, and library and information science are offered most frequently. The charts can be sorted by program type, duration and cost, so you can customize your search.
With so many degree programs available, you'll need help sorting through them. In the past the choice was simpler: You could choose a technologically focused program, such as a master's degree program in computer science or systems science, or an MBA program that stressed management with a little technology thrown in. But new degree programs have been created that fill the space between and broaden your choices.
These new programs fall into three broad types: information systems/management/science; telecommunications, networking and technology management; and the new library science--programs that deal with knowledge management, competitive intelligence and data mining.
Information systems/management degrees are designed for two groups of IT professionals: those who create and maintain IS solutions in support of organizational missions, and those who create and sell information-industry products and services to customer organizations. The former are application-solution developers who may work in manufacturing firms, service firms, not-for-profit organizations or public-sector agencies; they build the IS infrastructures that let their organizations compete in the business world. The latter provide the IT components and professional services used by the application-solution providers; as outsourcing continues to increase, more IT master's program graduates are finding employment in this second area.
Because the goal of these graduate programs is to educate students for a wide variety of technological and organizational contexts, they seek to balance technological, managerial and behavioral dimensions. Rather than focus on today's hot technologies, the programs emphasize fundamental disciplines, such as systems analysis, project management, data management, networking, human behavior, information economics and management principles. IS degrees may be found in the form of "techno" MBAs, which offer a traditional management education with a concentration in IT. They also may be found as master's degrees
in information management, information systems or information science, offered by schools that specialize in information. For an overview of an MSIS (master's of science in information systems) degree, see "MSIS: Model Curriculum and Guidelines for Graduate Degree Programs in Information Systems", published by an ACM-AIS (Association for Computing Machinery-Association for Information Systems) task force.
Telecommunications and networking degrees are part of an immature field and are all over the map in emphasis, structure and content. Some are based in electrical engineering departments and emphasize hard-core mathematical skills, which are powerful aids in the design of protocols and technologies but may be of limited use to the typical networking professional.
Another model is the interdepartmental program. In this arrangement, a degree program is cobbled together from courses in three or four academic departments. Usually, the program involves an engineering department, the business school, and the policy studies, economics or communications department to round out the "social" side. Interdepartmental programs are advantageous because experts in the given disciplines teach the courses, but the programs often lack coherence. The most recent model is the "information school," exemplified by divisions at Syracuse and Pittsburgh universities, that bridge management, technology, policy and economics.
Some graduate programs in telecommunications and networking are based in communications departments and emphasize social and behavioral aspects more than technology. Some computer-science programs focus on networking, with less emphasis on industry knowledge and managerial skills.
Finally, yesterday's librarian is today's information manager. Master's of library science graduates work on everything from organizing, cataloging and managing corporate intranets to bringing the Internet to the public library. The 21st century librarian must be adept at installing networks, developing Web sites and searching the Internet, as well as managing print and digital resources. Large corporations, school districts and small-town libraries entrust information acquisition, organization, storage and preservation to today's librarians.
The School Comes to You
At one time, if you wanted to pursue an advanced degree, you had to quit your job and perhaps move half a continent away. Universities have recognized these limitations and broadened their offerings with evening courses and summer sessions, and sent faculty to distant sites or provided two-way interactive video instruction. Internet usage seems to be the next leap in extending educational access to a wider group of busy people.
But while it may seem like a no-brainer to take an Internet-only program because of the convenience, this course has some disadvantages. One comes from losing a social dimension. Evidence suggests that even in an online environment one needs to "picture" classmates and a professor to fully engage in the interaction that leads to critical thinking.
The time in face-to-face interactions with your professors and classmates is called a residency. A traditional three-credit course typically contains about 37 "contact" (classroom) hours. Newer approaches to learning may reduce the duration of these residencies to two or three days of intense classroom work plus more online work.
Nonetheless, there is a tremendous and expanding future for hybrid systems that integrate new media in learning, provide for self-paced instruction and permit interactivity between students and faculty.