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Master of Liberal Arts Degree Slated to be Offered at JHU MCC

Students working on their master’s degrees typically take courses in a specialized area. Biotechnology students focus almost exclusively on biotechnology. Physics students concentrate on physics. English literature students may focus on a particular time period.

The approach is different for the master of liberal arts degree. Students can take classes as varied as King Arthur in Legend and Literature, Religions of India, China and Japan, Physics of the Universe and Bioethics.

And for the first time, the coursework leading to the master of liberal arts degree is slated to be offered at Johns Hopkins Montgomery County Campus. If approvals by Hopkins officials are secured this fall, the first courses could be offered in Montgomery County as early as Spring 2014.

“There is a wide open market here for a program like this,” said Dr. D. Melissa Hilbish, director of the Center for Liberal Arts and associate program chair of the Master of Liberal Arts Program. “There are no master’s level programs that do what we do.”

The master of liberal arts program was established in 1962. In 1971, a familiar face at Johns Hopkins Montgomery County earned her master of liberal arts degree: Mary Kay Galotto.

“It’s a wonderful degree,” said Galotto, who is now director of the popular Osher program for senior citizens. “It opens your mind to all sorts of things. It’s the best program I ever took.”

Hilbish and her colleague Dr. Dianne Scheper, senior lecturer and program coordinator for the master in liberal arts program, said if the degree is offered in Montgomery County, classes will be held in the evenings and on weekends, just as in Baltimore. The master of liberal arts is a part-time degree program, with students generally taking about three years to complete the coursework. They have up to five years to finish the curriculum. 


Students are required to take 10 courses. A core course is required, called Exploring the Liberal Arts: Ways of Knowing. After that, students are free to select the courses that interest them. Some students focus on a specific area, such as literature or film, but usually students take courses from different disciplines, furthering the idea that that master of liberal arts curriculum is designed to broaden students’ educations.

“We ask students to take courses outside their comfort zone,” Hilbish said.

The curriculum is meant to be interdisciplinary, pulling from political science, physics, environmental science, must, religion, literature, film, philosophy, photography and other areas. Students develop critical thinking skills and writing skills.

“Too few students in this country have a versatile background in the liberal arts,” Scheper said. “Some of them are hungry for this because their own training has been very narrow.”

The program appeals to students from all backgrounds, including educators, website developers, doctors, lawyers, military, government agency workers, Hopkins employees, retirees and others. The age range for students in the program is 20s to 70s.

“There really is no typical student,” Hilbish said.

Many students who are working on the degree at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore live in Montgomery County, Northern Virginia or Washington, D.C., Hilbish said. So the logical next step, she said, is to offer the courses at Johns Hopkins Montgomery County.

Hilbish and Scheper said they hope to attract students from Rockville, Gaithersburg and Frederick.

Approximately 85 students are in the Baltimore program. Hilbish and Scheper said they hope to kick off the Montgomery County program with about 20 students. King Arthur in Legend and Literature could be one of the first course offerings. Online courses and video conferencing classes may also be available.

The program often changes the way students think and view the world. They have deeper experiences at museums, at their jobs and in other aspects of their lives.

“Doors open even for students who are mid-career,” Hilbish said. “It’s a life-changing kind of program.”

For more information about the master of liberal arts, including application information and course descriptions, go to

CATEGORY: Academics