SFI and Arizona State University soon will offer the world’s first comprehensive online master’s degree in complexity science. It will be the Institute’s first graduate degree program, a vision that dates to SFI’s founding.

“With technology, a growing recognition of the value of online education, widespread acceptance of complexity science, and in partnership with ASU, we are now able to offer the world a degree in the field we helped invent,” says SFI President David Krakauer, “and it will be taught by the very people who built it into a legitimate domain of scholarship.”

ASU contributes to the partnership its degree-granting accreditation and its powerhouse online education platform EdPlus, with its 30,000-student enrollment and 150 degree offerings. It also offers faculty experts in various areas of complexity research. SFI contributes its global network of complexity researchers, many of whom are the recognized giants in the field, as well as its position as the world headquarters for complexity science and education.

SFI also “has the disciplinary breadth and leading ideas that other universities offering complexity degrees can’t offer,” says ASU President’s Professor Manfred Laubichler, an SFI external professor who is leading the university’s faculty collaboration on the project.

The curriculum builds on existing free online courses offered through the Institute’s highly successful Complexity Explorer, which has, in a few short years, enrolled more than 36,000 students in 15 complexity-based courses and tutorials.

“One of SFI’s goals is to help develop the next generation of scientists and students ready to understand the complex realities we’ll face in this century,” says SFI Director of Education Paul Hooper. “This first SFI degree program gives us an opportunity to amplify the impact of the science, and to define the field.”

The degree planners envision 30 credit hours comprising 15 two-credit-hour courses: five in the fundamental concepts of complexity (e.g., generalized evolution and collective computation), four in the methods of complexity science (e.g. networks, game theory), four electives (e.g. economics or cities), two independent study options, and an original research project. The first degree cohort is expected to be admitted in fall 2018 or spring 2019. 

Both institutions are looking to the future. “This collaboration with ASU allows SFI to do what it has always done best: encourage integrative scientific and educational opportunities with integrative ideas, across fields and across institutions,” says Hooper. 

For ASU, says Laubichler, the program is an example of the “global classroom,” a vision for higher education in which common online courses are among the listings at multiple universities. “Breaking the place-bounded nature of graduate education may prompt synergies we can’t anticipate, such as collaborations, cohorts, student projects, and summer schools across borders,” he says. 



  • When will the Master's launch? We expect early 2019 to be the earliest possible launch date.
  • When will enrollment open for the Master's? We do not currently have this information.

  • How much will tuition cost? We do not have this information, but Arizona State University typically charges between $510 and $1312 USD per credit hour for graduate level courses.  The Master's degree is likely to be a 30 credit hour program, so we estimate the cost will be between $15,300 and $39,360 USD.  This cost is inclusive of all fees and is the same regardless of a student's location of residence.
  • Will there be scholarships? We cannot promise this at this stage, however we would very much like to be able to offer scholarships. 

  • Where will the Master's be hosted? The Master's will be hosted and run through ASU's online education portal.  

  • What are the prerequisites for the Master's? We do not currently have this information as we are building the curriculum.  The curriculum will in part dictate what the prerequisites are.
  • Will courses I take on Complexity Explorer count towards the Master's? Not at this stage.  All of the courses in the Master's will be newly developed.  
  • What should I study while waiting to enroll in the Master's? We do not currently know what prerequisites will be required; however, it's a good idea to work on your math, programming and data analysis skills as there will likely be rigorous quantitative elements to the Master's.  It's also a good idea to take Complexity Explorer's courses and tutorials as they can give you a head start in the area of foundational concepts and methods.
  • What programming language will be used in the Master's? We do not have this information yet.

  • Will you stop offering new MOOCs and tutorials on Complexity Explorer? Quite the opposite! We will be re-packaging many of the courses produced for the Master's and will offer them as non-credit MOOCs on Complexity Explorer.  This is going to help us create a large number of new, interesting MOOCs for you much faster than we normally can.  
  • When will you release the new MOOCs from the Master's courses? We will first concentrate on getting the Master's program going.  Once a Master's course has been offered, we will get to work repackaging it as a MOOC.
  • If I take a Master's MOOC on Complexity Explorer, will I get credit towards the full Master's? Not at this stage - the two will be separate entities.
  • What is the Complex Systems Certificate Program? We will be working to create a non-credit SFI Complex Systems Certificate consisting of a series of MOOCs and culminating in a Complexity Challenge.  We plan to use the MOOCs created from the Master's courses, as well as non-Master's Complexity Explorer MOOCs, to create this.  This is a long term development goal.

  • What will the structure of the Master's be? The Master's will be made up of courses and elements that fall within four broad categories: foundations, methods, electives, and an independent project element. Students will be expected to complete a number of courses from each category, plus the independent project.  The number of courses a student will have to complete within each category has not yet been decided.
  • What are the foundation courses? The curriculum has not been finalized, but some broad topics to be covered may include generalized evolution, computation and information processing, collective computation and decision making, and invention and innovation. 
  • What are the methods courses? The curriculum has not been finalized, but some examples of methods to be included in these courses may include computational modeling, game theory, networks, nonlinear dynamics, and scaling.
  • What are the electives courses? The curriculum has not been finalized, but there may be electives covering topics such as urban systems, complexity and data analysis, complex economies, evolution, health and medicine, people and complex social systems, governance and policy,  statistical physics, and sustainability.

These topic lists are only for illustrative purposes and are subject to change at any time until we have finalized the curriculum.

Note: The online master’s program is currently under development. Course content, prerequisites, and cost structure are not yet set. If you’d like to receive email updates on this and other Santa Fe Institute education programs, please register on complexityexplorer.org.