Iowa State University
Jahren conducts grad-level distance learning.

At a time when industry practitioners already seem to work 25 hours a day, who has time to earn a graduate degree on the side? Four construction schools are using technology to ease that challenge and start developing a supply of well-qualified future educators.

Many universities and vocational schools now require instructors to have advanced degrees to teach, and groups such as the Associated General Contractors are concerned there is a dwindling supply of professionals with both field experience and education credentials, says Roger Liska, chairman of the Construction Science and Management Dept. at Clemson University, Clemson, S.C.

“AGC's construction education committee wanted to encourage universities to develop advanced degree programs on the construction side of the industry,” says Carrie Harper, AGC’s director of professional development. It issued a solicitation last year for schools to offer degrees using “distance learning.” Selected were Clemson; Iowa State University, Ames; Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind.; and a joint venture of Arizona State University, Tempe and Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff.

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  • Clemson already had a distance-learning program that offers both a master’s degree and a program certificate. Students take courses using the Internet and CDs of lectures. “It's a tradeoff for students,” says Liska. “They have the flexibility of not attending class but they lose the opportunity to interact with students and professors.” The program, which has operated since the early 1990s, has graduated about 50 students with less than 10% dropout rate, he says. It is geared both for students with undergraduate degrees in construction, engineering or architecture, and those without. 

    Iowa State launched its effort this fall. “It’s just another delivery method for our master’s degree programs,” says Charles Jahren, associate engineering professor. Five students are enrolled, but the school would like to see 20 to 30, he says. The program  may be modified to better fit student needs, says Jahren.

    The educator emphasizes that advanced-degree programs have other benefits. With more qualification-based selections, staffers with advanced degrees can be a differentiator and will increase the industry’s overall quality, he says.

    All of Iowa State’s graduate courses in construction are offered in distance learning, with six that are core, including preconstruction engineering, project management, and construction technology. Unlike other programs, Iowa State’s has a state-of-the-art video streaming program available to students on a secure Website. Classes are recorded and students can watch them “realtime” or later on demand. The program follows the regular semester, but students usually are given an extra week to complete assignments.

    Students generally take two classes a semester but can earn a degree in two years with summer courses for about $20,000. “These distance-learning programs should help alleviate the shortage in construction education teachers,” Jahren says. AGC this summer released a second distance-learning RFP and plans to announce awardees by month’s end.