R.B. McMaster, S. A. McMaster, S Manson, R. Skaggs

University of Minnesota


The growth in the geospatial industry in the United States has been remarkable, with estimates of $30 billion dollars a year in activity during 2006. To accommodate this growing industry, a variety of different models for GIS-based education over the past decade have been created. Each has their advantages and disadvantages. The paper will review key issues in professional GIS education, approaches to delivering this education, the case study of the University of Minnesota MGIS Program, challenges and successes thus far, and the future of US professional GIS education.


As identified by the University Consortium for Geographic Information Sciences (UCGIS) Education Committee, there is intense pressure on students, educators, and employers to understand the myriad requirements for professional GIS education, and to develop appropriate and flexible models of delivery. Key models include Distance Learning (e.g., UNIGIS, Penn States World Campus, ESRIs Virtual Campus), Masters degrees in GI Science (e.g., Clark University, University of Redlands, University of Minnesota), certificate Programs (e.g., San Diego State U, St. Cloud State), short courses (e.g., vendors, institutions), degrees in other disciplines with GIS courses (e.g., Forest Resources), and combined approaches (e.g., GeoWDC). For example, on-campus programs allow for intensive work with faculty, interaction with other students, and a hands-on laboratory-based environment. However, these programs are often not convenient for the working professional with less time than a traditional student. For such students the distance-based approach is often more appealing. Thus each of the models serves the needs of different types of students.


We offer the ten-year old Master of GIS program at the University of Minnesota as a case study of an on-campus program. The MGIS program emphasizes three componentsbasic, technical, and applied education in GI Science. Basic coursework covers the fundamentals of GI Science, including spatial data acquisition, data structures, spatial analysis, and cartographic representation. Coursework in Principles of GIS, Advanced GIS, Urban GIS, spatial analysis, and cartography is offered. Technical courses include Introduction to ArcGIS, Advanced ArcGIS, spatial data administration, surveying and GPS, and spatial programming. Finally, in applied coursework, students direct their knowledge towards solving a variety of social and biophysical problems. The program is interdisciplinary, with faculty participating from computer science, forestry, biostatistics, and soils, water, and climate.


Given the growing demand for GIS education in the United States and other countries, new models of access need to be considered. International exchanges would allow for better discussions of pedagogical approaches among countries. This paper proposes some possible mechanisms for this exchange.