Skip to main content

ASU offers first Master of Public Health program

May 04, 2009

Because of the recession, more people are struggling with issues of homelessness and the need to access affordable health care, as well as mental health problems brought on by stress.

The Arizona Board of Regents has approved a plan for ASU to offer a new public health program to help address these timely issues. Pending approval from the University Senate, ASU will become the nation’s first public university to offer a master's degree program in public health, focusing specifically on urban health.

“An important part of Arizona State University’s mission is to serve the people in nearby communities,” says ASU President Michael Crow. “Phoenix is the fifth-largest city in the United States, with a population of more than 1.5 million. Many people here are dealing with public health issues common to urban areas, such as homelessness, serious mental illness and limited access to health care.”

Recent data shows 5.4 percent of Arizona adults have a serious mental illness, and 8.7 percent of Arizona children and teens are reported to have moderate to severe emotional or behavioral problems. A recent study by the National Institute of Mental Health found more than 30 percent of teens living in the greater Phoenix area met the diagnostic criteria for anxiety disorders.

The program will offer its first classes at ASU’s downtown Phoenix campus in fall 2010. It will be administered through the School of Health Management and Policy at the internationally regarded W. P. Carey School of Business, in collaboration with the College of Nursing & Health Innovation. Other ASU schools also will be involved in the program.

“These are exactly the type of creative, forward-thinking results we knew would come from our partnership with ASU in downtown Phoenix,” says Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon. “We are absolutely becoming the center of education, research and science. And, because of the economic challenges we all feel, the timing is particularly relevant for this exciting announcement.”

“The program will have a special emphasis on the public health needs of the multicultural populations found in urban centers, such as Phoenix,” adds Marjorie Baldwin, director of the School of Health Management and Policy, who also will be director of the new program. “We will take a broad view of public health issues, combining fundamental public health skills with competencies especially needed in urban areas, such as community and mental health, diversity, policy and ethics.”

“I am excited about partnering with the School of Health Management and Policy for this innovative program to prepare graduates who will tackle and solve the most pressing public health issues confronting Phoenix and other metropolitan areas across the nation,” says Bernadette Melnyk, dean of the ASU College of Nursing & Health Innovation.

Just two other universities in the nation offer a program like this, and both are private institutions. The two-year program is intended to prepare graduates to work in a variety of settings, including government, voluntary health organizations and community-based primary care. To save costs in light of the state budget deficit, the program will use primarily current ASU faculty and faculty who support themselves through external funding, such as grants. The program also will graduate public health professionals who can potentially help the community save money.

“A lot of public health is preventive health, so people can be safe in their homes and avoid health problems,” says Baldwin, an author of more than 30 health care articles. “In an era when we’re more concerned about health care costs and improved access, this is the kind of program that is cost-effective and desperately needed in urban areas.”

“Public health issues in large urban settings are destined to dominate the health care and social landscape of the 21st century," says Roger Hughes, executive director of St. Luke’s Health Initiatives, a Phoenix-based public foundation. "This program gets ASU in on the ground floor.”