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Vermont Law School Marks First Anniversary of Nation’s First Fully Online Environmental Master’s Program

May 15, 2012

SOUTH ROYALTON, Vt. -- Vermont Law School's distance learning program is thriving one year after starting to offer the nation's first fully online master's degrees in environmental law and policy.

VLS, the top-ranked environmental law school in the country, on May 16, 2011, kicked off the first fully online master's degree programs in U.S. environmental law for lawyers and non-lawyers working in the law, public policy and other fields in the United States and overseas.

Image of PurdomEnrollment is growing for the online Master of Environmental Law and Policy (MELP) and online LLM in Environmental Law for post-JD attorneys, which together have nearly 100 students, mostly from the United States, with a few from other countries. The program is designed for people who need to work while completing their graduate degree, but who want the same quality of education offered on campus, including in-depth and personal discussion between students and professors.

Distance learning serves the fastest-growing population of graduate students, and more law schools are offering master's degrees entirely online in specialized areas of law, such as the environment, taxation, health care, estate planning or business transactions.

"Our asynchronous, interactive program design incorporates the latest learning research," said Associate Professor Rebecca Purdom, VLS's director of Distance Learning and assistant dean of Environmental Programs. "Our program is simply more available to a wider array of students and professionals than the synchronous, video-based programs currently offered by most law schools."

VLS also is leading law schools in the development of the appropriate standards for distance education, said Purdom, who is chair of the Working Group for Distance Learning in Legal Education, which she coordinates with VLS Professor Oliver Goodenough and the Harvard Program for the Legal Profession. The American Bar Association currently allows up to 12 credits of distance education toward a Juris Doctor degree, but in July will consider a proposal to allow up to a full semester to be taken via distance learning toward a JD. The Working Group has submitted comments on the proposed change to the ABA and is creating a best practices guide for law schools about to embark on distance learning efforts. The Working Group has also developed a model law school distance learning policy.

"While times are tight and it's been challenging to take on a new investment, Vermont Law School should be proud and grateful that our leaders had the foresight to step into the brave new world of distance learning over the past year," Purdom said. "We're watching the mass-market introduction of these programs with interest, but we're confident that a selective, highly personal and interactive program design will ultimately win the day."

Purdom can be reached at 802-831-1217 or

Learn more information about VLS's distance learning program.

CONTACT: John Cramer, Associate Director of Media Relations, Vermont Law School
Office: 802-831-1106, cell: 540-798-7099, home: 802-649-2235,

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