Regents Approve Undergraduate Degree in Public Health

Regents Approve Undergraduate Degree

The School of Public Health will soon admit its first class of students for a new undergraduate program, leading to a BS or BA degree in public health.

The U-M Board of Regents approved the new major in September. If also approved by the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan, SPH plans to open its doors to 50 undergraduates in the fall of 2017, and eventually build the program to serve 300 students.

"Undergraduate students are increasingly engaged in the process of building a healthier world," said SPH Dean Martin Philbert. "By integrating public health education into the undergraduate experience, we will create more informed citizens who are better prepared to address the myriad challenges that will be part of the world they inherit."

SPH leaders cite growing demand for undergraduate programs in public health, evidenced by increased numbers of students graduating into the field; the creation of similar degrees at peer institutions; calls from leading health organizations for more programs and courses; and feedback from current and prospective U-M students.

The school's addition of a handful of highly subscribed undergraduate courses since 2009 also demonstrated interest in the study of public health at this level.

"Part of this is to be responsive to students' needs and desires, and part of it is to address the Institute of Medicine call for an educated citizenry," said Gary Harper, professor of health behavior and health education and chair of the task force charged with leading the effort to create an undergraduate program. An additional goal is to offer classes that can be taken by non-majors as well, Harper said.

The Institute of Medicine has challenged higher education leaders to increase the number of undergraduate public health courses nationwide, both to boost the numbers of young people going into the profession and to create a citizenry that is prepared to address emerging health issues.

The program emphasis will be on multidisciplinary training, with a focus on 21st-century public health problems such as antimicrobial resistance, climate impacts on food supply, and unequal access to care, leaders say. Students seeking the undergraduate degree can choose from two areas of concentration: public health sciences, and community and global public health.

The major will require a field learning experience, with study abroad encouraged. Students will apply as sophomores and be admitted for their final two years as an undergraduate. One of the unique features of the U-M program is that its multidisciplinary curriculum will cross all six current departments: biostatistics, environmental health sciences, epidemiology, health behavior and health education, health management and policy, and nutritional sciences.

Laurel Thomas

More on the school's new under-graduate program.