NEW YORK ( MainStreet) — Arizona State University rolled out an online grad school certificate in business journalism last month, offered through the Donald W. Reynolds School of Business Journalism, based in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in Phoenix. ASU says the program is the first of its kind.

Applications are accepted on a rolling basis. The six-week program will be offered twice per semester. The first session is scheduled to begin August 21, and the second on October 15.

Instructors will include former CNBC anchor Andrew Leckey, data journalism maven and Pulitzer Prize-winner Steve Doig and Robin Phillips, former editor of BusinessWeek online.

The certificate consists of a fifteen hour program with five three-credit courses, including:

  • Critical Analysis of Business Journalism
  • Better Business Story Telling
  • Data in Business Journalism
  • Issues in Coverage of Business and the Economy
  • Investigative Business Journalism

"In the future, we may add classes and students may be given the option of choosing five from a longer list," said Marianne Barrett, senior associate dean at the Cronkite School.

Why offer a certificate program now?

"We saw a need for training beyond what was already being offered," Barrett remarked. "The idea came from the market research and polling survey we conducted at the business journalism school."

She mentioned that respondents were looking for specific skills and either already had an introduction to the field or were working in business journalism in some capacity.

"Students would be doing this to advance their careers relative to jobs they already hold," she said.

Barrett stopped short of calling this distance learning.

"The ASU platform is the Learning Studio," she said. "Students connect with the instructor through discussion boards and email communication, Power Point and other tools. It's asynchronous but not totally self-directed. You can watch a specific lecture on a Monday or a Thursday. You could finish the program ahead of schedule or take more than a year. The Discussion Boards are a central point where the instructor will post content and receive comments."

It functions as a class discussion forum and a coursework aggregator.

"Online classes are built for scale," she said. "We don't think there will be a huge number at first, but there is the potential to grow and with no physical classrooms, we can grow quickly."

GREs are not required, but a 3.0 GPA is. International students need a perfect score on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOFEL) exam.

Barrett thinks there will be a strong international presence.

"Reynolds does a lot of work with international students, especially from China and this will help," Barrett said. Of course, such students won't need visas or have the hassle of relocation because the course in online and there is no physical classroom.