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Best Online Master’s Degrees in: Natural Resources Management

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Editor's Picks: Online Schools for Natural Resources Management

The best online master's degree in natural resources management for value is the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which offers an online Master of Science in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences (NRES). The annual return on investment at the University of Illinois is 10.7% for in-state students and 9.1% for out-of-state students, according to's ROI rankings. Those percentages increase to 12.5% and 10.1%, respectively, for students receiving financial aid.+

Featured Online Programs

The University of Denver, which offers a Master of Applied Science in Environmental Policy and Management with a specialization in natural resource management, wins the award for best online master's degree in natural resources management because it is designed for the busy adult. Students have the option of enrolling in courses completely online, taking evening classes on campus, or a combination of both, giving working adults much-needed flexibility in pursuing their education, according to the program website. Aside from the flexibility of asynchronous online courses, students also have program flexibility, and can customize some of their course work to better suit their chosen career path using an online degree builder tool.

Career Support
The award for best online master's degree in natural resources management goes to Oregon State University, which offers an online Master of Natural Resources. The university's career services department offers career counseling and advising, help finding jobs and internships, and useful job search preparation advice in areas such as resume and cover letter writing, interviewing, salary and benefit negotiation, and networking. Distance learners can take advantage of online seminars that address various areas of job searching, and can also access Beaver JobNet, an online resource where students can search for jobs and internships 24/7 and post their resumes for employers to search. Last but not least, online students can practice for job interviews using InterviewStream, a Web-based interview tool that is interactive, providing feedback on areas where you can improve your interview skills.

Financial Support
The University of Tennessee at Martin, which offers an online Master of Science in Agriculture and Natural Resources, has a reputation for providing generous financial aid. Ninety-six percent of full-time, beginning undergraduate students received some sort of financial aid, and 55% received institutional grants or scholarships, according to College Navigator. Students can apply for UT-Martin scholarships, alumni-sponsored scholarships, departmental scholarships (including agriculture and natural resources scholarships), and receive help in applying for state and federal student aid or utilizing military benefits through the financial aid office, according to the Financial Aid and Scholarships Office. For these reasons, the University of Tennessee at Martin wins the award for best online master's degree in natural resources management for financial support.

Technology Support
The University of Denver is the winner of the best online master's degree in natural resources management in technology support for providing 24/7 technical assistance to their online students. In contrast, many other universities only offer tech support during limited hours, which can put a student in quite a bind if he or she is trying to complete project on deadline and runs into technical issues in the middle of the night. In addition, students have access to a free mobile app that is compatible with iPhone, Android, and iPad devices.

Student Engagement
Student engagement can be difficult to achieve in an online learning environment since students are often online at different times of day and seldom interact in person with their professors or classmates. However, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's program encourages student engagement by incorporating real-time course delivery, which boosts a student's ability to communicate directly with faculty and classmates, according to the program website. In addition, students who want more face-to-face time and hands-on experience in their program have the option of enrolling in electives that are offered in a blended format — where course work is online, but students meet with faculty and classmates in person for labs and field trips a few times a semester. Because the University of Illinois gives its online students so many opportunities to connect, it is the recipient of the award for best online master's degree in natural resources management for student engagement.

Disability Support
The award for best online master's degree in natural resources management for disability support goes to the University of Denver, which offers two programs for students with disabilities, including the Learning Effectiveness Program (LEP) and the Disability Services Program (DSP). While nearly all higher education institutions offer some services for students with disabilities to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the University of Denver goes above and beyond, offering comprehensive services to those with physical, psychological, health-related, or learning disabilities, as well as ADHD. The LEP, a fee-for-service program, is among the top comprehensive support programs in the nation, and serves more than 200 students with ADHD and other learning disabilities and challenges every year, according to the LEP website, while the DSP is a free service for those with documented disabilities.

Library and Research Support
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, better known as Virginia Tech, receives the award for best online master's degree in natural resources management for library and research support because it has a dedicated distance education librarian on staff to help distance learners access library services. Distance learners have access to interlibrary loan privileges and those who live outside the New River Valley area are eligible for document delivery and can have library materials mailed directly to their home, saving these students time and gas money. Online students can also take advantage of the Ask a Librarian chat and email service, as well as gain off-campus access to the library's full-text e-resources. Last but not least, Virginia Tech's library staff includes a subject specialist in natural resources conservation.

Learning Support
The winner of the award for best online master's degree in natural resources management for learning support is Oregon State University, which offers a broad array of services through the OSU Extended Campus Student Service Center. These services include degree planning, online orientation, online tutoring through NetTutor (which includes an online writing lab), online access to OSU library services and materials, technical help, and helping you arrange for a test proctor if your course requires it, according to the university's website.

Faculty Credentials
The award for best online master's degree in natural resources management for faculty credentials goes to Virginia Tech, whose distinguished faculty in the College of Natural Resources and Environment have a wealth of experience and education to share with students. For example, Michael Mortimer, natural resources program director, was elected a Fellow of the Society of American Foresters, an honor bestowed on less than 5% of the organization's members, and David Trauger, professor emeritus of natural resources management, received the Washington Academy of Sciences Leo Schubert Award for teaching science in college, according to the university fact book. Faculty research interests are varied, and include sustainability, conservation ecology, endangered species, environmental policy, and ecosystem management, to name a few.

Faculty Accessibility
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign wins the award for best online master's degree in natural resources management for faculty accessibility because of its real-time approach to online education, which allows all distance learners to log in at the same time to participate live in class instruction. This lets students interact with faculty directly. Student testimonials detail their professors' passion for what they teach and willingness to work with students through any problems that crop up in the program, as well as the program director's helpful responses to questions and concerns.

Alumni Engagement
The award for best online master's degree in natural resources management for alumni engagement goes to the University of Denver, which features a large number of alumni events and services, including career services, library access, athletic discounts, travel opportunities, and more. A signature event is the annual Alumni Symposium where alumni who are avid lifelong learners come together for a two-day gathering, where they hear DU faculty and distinguished graduates speak on relevant topics, and network with other alumni. Alumni can also connect with their alma mater through DU on the Road, where university leaders host cocktail receptions at cities across the nation and alumni can catch up on the latest developments at the university. Aside from events like these, alumni can stay connected locally through alumni chapters at major cities across the U.S., including Boston, New York, Chicago, Seattle, Phoenix, and more.

Prior Learning Options
The University of Tennessee at Martin wins the award for best online master's degree in natural resources management for prior learning options for allowing students to transfer up to 12 semester hours of graduate credit from another institution, according to the university's website. Students who have completed some relevant graduate course work at another university with a grade of B or higher may find this generous transfer policy helpful in completing their UT-Martin graduate degree more quickly.

New Online Student Orientation
Utah State University, which offers an online Master of Natural Resources program, wins the award for best online master's degree in natural resources management for new online student orientation. Prospective students have the opportunity to view the online orientation before enrolling to get a taste of what to expect from the program. In this orientation, student learn the difference between the university's online, hybrid, broadcast, and face-to-face courses, as well as gain helpful information about program cost, financial aid, proctored testing, library and research resources, and more. The orientation is available for future, new, and current students.

Explore a Master's Degree in Natural Resources Management

Natural resource management is a field of study that focuses on the management of land, plants, soil, water, and animals with the goal of preserving these resources for future generations. Online master's degree programs in natural resource management are designed to help students develop the analytical and problem-solving skills needed to fill supervisory positions in the field. Most positions will be with local, state, and federal government agencies, or in academic research. However, some job opportunities may also be found with private companies. Those interested in pursuing advanced careers in research will most likely need to continue on to a Ph.D. program to gain the necessary credentials.

Students enrolled in an online program can take classes either full or part time, as fits with their personal and professional lives. The average time to complete this type of program can range from two to three years. However, the number of classes a student elects to take each term, any transfer credits brought in, and whether or not they remain continuously enrolled in the program can all affect how long it will take to earn the degree.

Class Curriculum

Natural resource management students will complete a curriculum with a variety of lecture, seminar, research, and field work courses. Common topics include, but are not limited to, sustainability, ecology, water resources, environmental law, environmental ethics, and research methods. Courses that may be required in a natural resource management program include:

  • Introduction to Sustainable Natural Resources. This is a survey course that explores the economic, environmental, cultural, social, ethical, and policy considerations of natural resource management and sustainability. Discussions will include topics such as key policy drivers and balancing competing interests.
  • Wildlife Ecology. Students will examine the interrelatedness of wildlife, humans, and the environment. They will also learn to evaluate properties and habitats of wildlife populations.
  • World View and Environmental Values. This course focuses on a comparative study of world-views on nature, environmental values, and current environmental issues.

Common assignments include readings, research projects and papers, presentations, and laboratory exercises. Given the nature of this area of study, students should also be prepared to complete a significant number of field work hours. At the graduate level, this will likely include conducting original field-based research for a master's thesis or capstone project. This will serve to demonstrate the student's ability to apply the theories and concepts they have learned throughout the program in a real-world setting.

Building a Career

Graduates who earn their master's degree in natural resource management are equipped with the analytical, research, and problem-solving skills needed to fill supervisory positions in conservation science, forestry, fish and wildlife management, academia, or research. Most positions will be with local, state, and federal government agencies. However, some positions may be available with private companies.

For those interested in advancing their careers in academia or research, a Ph.D. is often required. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for conservation scientists and foresters is expected to increase by 5% from 2010 to 2020. This is significantly slower than the 14% growth expected for jobs overall. The median salary for conservation scientists was $59,310. The majority of professionals in this field were employed by the federal government, followed by the state government. Those who worked in the scientific research and development services industry earned the highest salaries, at a mean of $78,390 a year. Please note, however, that actual openings and starting salaries are influenced by a number of factors such as location, level of work experience, education, the specific industry or employer, and the economic climate.