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Student demonstrators in the rainy weather protesting outside of Coffman Memorial Union on Tuesday.
Photos from April 23 protests
Published April 23, 2024

UMN School of Public Health announces undergrad public health major

The new major will begin in fall 2023 and offers new classes for students as the school’s first undergraduate degree program.
Image by David Monterroso
The deadline for current University students to apply to transfer into the new major program next fall is Feb. 15.

Starting in fall 2023, the University of Minnesota School of Public Health (SPH) will offer a new major in public health, which will be the school’s first undergraduate degree program.

The SPH announced the new Bachelor of Arts program in a tweet at the end of fall semester.

The school created the new major to meet student interest and boost participation in the public health job market, SPH associate professor Ruby Nguyen said.

“We need to make sure our public health workforce is robust and we can meet the needs of local public health,” Nguyen said.

Those who receive a public health BA can go on to work as health educators and community health workers. There are many jobs and opportunities for people who have four-year degrees, Nguyen said.

Nguyen said the public health minor was introduced about 10 years ago and has become the second-largest minor at the University, calling it an “overwhelming success.”

The public health minor is offered through the College of Liberal Arts though, not SPH, and before the creation of the new public health BA, the SPH only offered graduate programs.

Some students, like fourth-year biochemistry major Caroline Vitale, said they thought a public health major was a great addition to the University’s undergraduate degree programs.

“Public health has been really relied upon in the last couple years,” Vitale said.

Vitale said she thinks there is a lot of interest among students to pursue a public health major and that public health workers are important for building strong and healthy communities.

“Having public health classes helps students integrate their learning with community resources,” Vitale said.

Along with the existing interest among the students for expanded public health programs, there was a need to fill upcoming open positions in public health, Nguyen said.

“We are facing a retirement cliff here,” Nguyen said. “One quarter of local public health workers are over the age of 60.”

As of 2021, the national job outlook for public health careers is 12%, or an average of 16,000 job openings per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Building on the minor’s foundation

The program’s foundation comes from existing classes in the public health minor; however, the school developed new courses exclusively for students in the major program, Nguyen said. The program will offer four new courses and a capstone, including Information and Data Sources for Public Health Decision Making and Inequalities in Health.

SPH has opened the application for current University students to transfer into the new program starting this fall. Nguyen said the class size for this first round of students will be capped at 35, but it will likely grow within the next five years.

“We need to make sure we can address their needs with the staff we have,” Nguyen said.

Since SPH has never had an undergraduate degree program until now, it is not restricted in ways to support their students, Nguyen said.

“This is an opportunity to develop cutting-edge, new student services programs and interactions with the students,” Nguyen said. “We have a clean slate to come up with fresh ways to address our undergraduate student population.”

The SPH has been getting the word out about the new major through advisors and student groups, Nguyen said.

Second-year student Pippa Netsch said despite being an art history major, she thinks a public health major would be a popular degree.

“Especially now with the state of the world, I feel like there’s a lot of people who have knowledge of that now and probably want to pursue that as a career,” Netsch said.

More information regarding the new public health BA can be found on the School of Public Health’s website. The deadline for current students to apply to transfer is Feb. 15.

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