Digital Diplomas

Someday all the big research universities may offer graduate degrees online -- but for now, Stanford is the only one. Starting this fall, cyber-students will be able to earn a master’s in electrical engineering without ever setting foot on campus.

Students in the program will take classes through the world wide web. One window on their computer monitor will display a slightly jerky videotape of a professor’s campus lecture. Another will contain an outline of the lecture. A third will serve as a virtual chalkboard showing illustrations and graphics. Homework will be posted online, and discussions will take place live on the Internet.

The degree program is a natural extension of the engineering school’s 30-year history of delivering courses to off-campus professionals via closed-circuit TV, satellite, microwave and videotape, says Andy DiPaolo, director of the Stanford Center for Professional Development. “In the industrial age, we went to school,” he says. “In the communication age, the school comes to us.”

Some 50 students are expected to enroll this fall. They will come from the 300 mostly high-tech companies that participate in the center’s programs. The virtual scholars will have to meet all the admission prerequisites of students who study on campus -- except one: no bicycle necessary.