Degree Completion for Dog Lovers

The Humane Society University will begin offering undergraduate degrees and graduate certificates this fall.
June 19, 2009

It's not spelled out as an admissions requirement, but it’s a safe assumption that “Must Love Dogs” is implicit.

Or animals, at least. The Humane Society University, newly licensed as a degree-granting institution by the District of Columbia, will begin offering undergraduate degrees this fall in animal studies, animal policy and advocacy, and humane leadership, as well as graduate certificates in those three areas. The university, which is a program of the Humane Society of the United States, will offer degree programs online and on site in D.C.

The programs are oriented toward working adults and those looking to complete their bachelor’s degrees; to be admitted to the undergraduate programs, students would essentially have to have junior status, and have already completed at least 60 college credits, including general education requirements, elsewhere. (Another such specialized college offering instruction only in the junior and senior years, but this one with a single major in history, is also getting started.)

“In the animal shelter community, a great percentage of executive directors are career changers. And the executive directors at the local animal shelter level, a great majority of them do not have a college degree or only have an associate degree. So this is really trying to help professionalize that position,” says Robert Roop, the Humane Society University’s president. In addition to professionals already working in animal shelters or related nonprofits, the university hopes to attract students interested in animals and animal advocacy more generally -- “someone who works in the day and volunteers in the evening, or someone who works in public policy who has a keen interest in animal advocacy,” Roop says.

"We really think there is a niche out there."

The Humane Society University already offers non-credit professional or work force development courses in-person and online, and has since its founding about five years ago, Roop explains. Now that it’s licensed to grant degrees, Roop says the university has plans to seek accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

So what would a major in animal studies, animal policy and advocacy, or humane leadership look like? Across the three majors, all students would take two courses: Animal Protection as a Social Movement and Animals and Ethics. The animal studies major is intended to be interdisciplinary in nature, and the core courses include Understanding the Human Animal Bond, Sociology of Animal Abuse, Animals in Literature, Global Animal Issues, and Animal Protection and the Environment. Core courses for the animal policy and advocacy major, meanwhile, include Research Methods for Humane Change, Animals and Public Policy, and Animals, Advocacy and Corporate Change. The humane leadership major includes core courses in “humane content," including courses in Humane Education and Animal Cruelty and Interpersonal Violence, as well core courses in nonprofit management.

Tuition will be set at around $300 per credit or $900 per course, says Roop. While the department chairs will be full-time faculty, the university will otherwise rely on adjuncts -- which Roop says offers an opportunity to cull the best available talent to teach in the part-time program. “We have literally gone out and scoured the countryside for what we could consider the expert in animal ethics and the expert in the sociology of animal abuse,” said Roop, who expects that about 60 to 70 percent of the university's students will enroll online. For students, he likewise hopes to draw from a national pool.

“It’s the only program like it in the United States,” says Roop. “There’s nothing even close to compare to it.”

Frankie Trull, president of the National Association for Biomedical Research -- which represents groups that do animal research whereas the Humane Society represents, well, animals -- was skeptical. She pointed out that plenty of colleges already offer degrees in various aspects of animal care (albeit not advocacy, but, she said, “I’ve never heard of a university granting degrees in advocacy”).

She asked: “If the degree really is something of value when you get out, I guess that’s the question. And maybe it is, like everything else that’s new, who knows? Some things work and some things don’t. But I certainly think the message needs to be made that there are programs in existence now in all forms of animal care.”


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