New part-time option to diversify, strengthen Brown’s urban education policy master’s program

Traditionally an intensive one-year degree program, a master’s in urban education policy will now be available to part-time students, including Rhode Island teachers, education administrators, full-time caretakers and more.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — For more than a decade, the Brown University master’s program in urban education policy has attracted future agents of change. The intensive, year-long UEP program readies students to become researchers, executives, consultants and administrators who confront education inequality in underserved communities across the United States.

Now, thanks to its success, the UEP program is expanding. Beginning next month, the program will accept applications for a part-time, two-year track that will launch in 2024 — targeted toward full-time teachers, Rhode Island education administrators and others for whom a full-time commitment is a barrier.

“Making this degree program available to young, entry-level professionals, particularly those in the field of education, makes it accessible to a broader set of potential applicants who might be looking to build on their existing skills in order to make a bigger impact,” said Kenneth Wong, director of the UEP program and a professor of education policy, international and public affairs, and political science. “It also enriches the UEP program itself: Teachers, education officials and advocates from nonprofits in Rhode Island’s urban core have unique and important perspectives to share with their peers and with faculty.”

The part-time offering isn’t entirely new: For 10 years, an agreement between Brown’s Department of Education and Rhode Island Teach for America has enabled that organization’s teaching fellows in the Ocean State to apply for and join the UEP program on a part-time basis. Wong said that since 2013, a small handful have entered the program each year, sharing valuable insights straight from their classrooms.

“These are teachers currently working in Providence public schools, teaching multilingual learners and special education students,” Wong said. “As professors, we’re good at theorizing and teaching methodology, but sometimes we need a ‘reality check’ — an ear on the ground in these urban classrooms who can advise on how realistic it is to implement certain policies and practices. That is the value that TFA students have added for the last 10 years.”

Wong said the success of that arrangement makes him confident in the future success of an expanded part-time program. He imagines the program could be a good fit for any number of education practitioners in the area — teachers and school administrators, certainly, but also officials within the Rhode Island Department of Education or other state agencies, members of town and city councils who are passionate about improving education, and community organizers who work in education nonprofits. Wong said the part-time option is also ideal for those who have responsibilities as primary caregivers and those who need accommodations for a disability.

“For those who are thinking about systemic change, and who are committed to making a difference in high-needs education settings, there’s a tremendous amount of potential for this part-time program to help them follow their ambitions,” Wong said. “Any kind of education career that involves working at the intersection of policymaking institutions and diverse communities is the kind of career we prepare our graduates for.”

For those who are thinking about systemic change, and who are committed to making a difference in high-needs education settings, there’s a tremendous amount of potential for this part-time program to help them follow their ambitions.

Ken Wong Director, UEP program
Ken Wong teaching

Graduates of the full-time UEP program now work as education specialists in state and local agencies, operations directors at charter schools, recruiters at national education nonprofits and data analysts at education research firms. Some have used the program as a springboard for advanced study involving policy analysis, planning and development in urban public education. 

Wong said part-time students will do all the same coursework as their full-time peers, giving them access to those and more career paths. 

A two-year learning journey

Traditionally, the one-year UEP program kicks off in mid-June with two introductory courses taken by that year’s entire cohort, binding students together in tight-knit relationships from the start. Wong said part-time students will also enroll in those two summer courses when they begin, ensuring they develop the same close network and program identity as their full-time peers.

Over the following five semesters, part-time students will take six more core courses and one elective. In the second year of the program, they will also take part in an immersive nine-month internship that closely relates to their career goals. Wong said that in the past, many UEP interns have made a substantial impact on the Rhode Island community. Many have produced strong research-based findings on the effectiveness of initiatives to increase parental engagement and college readiness. Three interns worked with Wong to develop a state school funding formula that’s still in use today. And in 2012, a handful of UEP interns helped the state education commissioner author a Race to the Top proposal that brought millions of dollars to Rhode Island schools. 

Brown will being accepting applications for the program in September, with a January 2024 application deadline. Throughout the fall, Wong plans to hold a handful of information sessions for anyone who has questions about the part-time program. 

In Spring 2024, Wong and his colleagues aim to enroll a 30-person UEP cohort to begin in the 2024-25 academic year, with about 20 enrolling as full-time students and about 10 joining the program as part-time students. Some students in the cohort will be Urban Education Fellows — those who attend Brown tuition-free when they commit to working in Providence-area public schools for three years after graduation.

“We are very excited to see what sort of applications we receive once word of the part-time program gets out,” Wong said. “This program has made a tremendous impact on state and local communities, and we hope to build on that momentum by welcoming students who are already embedded in the community and making an impact through their work.”