Most people who run a store or help manage a hotel will tell you it’s next to impossible to pursue a graduate degree in their field simply because they would have to quit their current job in order to return to college. A new program from University of Kentucky’s School of Human Environmental Sciences within the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment just may eliminate that roadblock.

The first-ever online master’s degree program in the college will make its debut next month coinciding with the start of UK’s fall semester for 2017-18.

The online program will offer the same content professors teach in classrooms. The same professors who lead the on-campus classes will also lead the corresponding online course. Each online class will have an identical platform to keep classes within one course consistent and create a familiarity for students. Students in the online program will have an opportunity to complete an internship instead of a thesis to graduate.

"The Department of Retailing and Tourism Management has worked long and hard to make sure our students receive a high quality education," said Vanessa Jackson, professor and department chair. "The online master’s degree is an extension of this commitment. The online courses require the same amount of academic rigor or more. We’ve taken great care to ensure the student learning outcomes are linked to course assignments."

Interested students still have to meet the same guidelines and registration deadlines for the online program as students in the on-campus program.

A minimum of 30 total hours is required for degree completion. Students may complete coursework outside of the department (e.g. fulfill teaching certification) with approval from the director of graduate studies.  

Scarlett Wesley, associate professor and director of graduate studies for the department, is excited about the response thus far.

"This is an opportunity to reach those professionals already working in the industry who want to take that next step to advance in their careers without stepping away from the workforce," Wesley said. "Judging by the number of inquiries and applications we’ve been receiving from people in Kentucky as well as out-of-state, there really is a pent up demand for this program."

Currently, the Department of Retailing and Tourism Management, which includes two pathways to degrees, merchandising, apparel and textiles and hospitality management and tourism, has a total of more than 340 students, most of those undergraduate majors.

"The field is growing," Jackson said. "We train our students to serve as managers in the hospitality industry and retailing. We groom our graduates to create a consumer experience that will make people want to come back, whether that is a hotel stay, dinner out at a restaurant, or purchasing clothing or another product. Today it is about how fast the customer can get the product, the quality of the product or service, and what consumers experience throughout these transactions."

Jackson and Wesley said faculty in the department closely monitor and track industry trends.

"In today’s retail climate, the type of store format preferred by shoppers is changing," Wesley said. "While most consumers used to shop at their local department store for example, they are now making purchases more often at smaller boutiques and online. These changes do impact the strategies we implement in our curriculum to prepare our students for changing environments in the retail industry. We continually work with our advisory board and other industry leaders along with conducting research to readily prepare our students for positions." 

In the online program, an internship will be required rather than a traditional master’s thesis.

"Since we expect more nontraditional students, we are designing the internship to enhance a person’s present job or a proposed job," Wesley said. "Students may also identify a project at their current place of employment that is considered a problem and design a potential solution that could be implemented and used to help solve the issue."

Another aspect of the online master’s is that there is no differential between in-state and out-of-state tuition — all online students will pay the same dollar amount as Kentucky residents.

"Our faculty really have embraced the idea of complementing our face-to-face program with the online version of the same program," Jackson said. "With the help of the Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (CELT) here at UK and with the assistance of Seth Riker, marketing and communications manager for the Center for Student Successin the college, we have been able to establish state-of-the-art course content and website accessibility that represent our commitment to excellence in this new graduate online program."

The deadline to sign up for the online master’s degree in retailing and tourism management is Aug. 22.

To learn more, visit or contact Wesley at 859-257-7778.

Computer with Retailing and Tourism Management Brochures

Image by Seth Riker

Author: Carl Nathe
Contact: CARL NATHE 859-257-3200
Terms: RTM