NIU’s Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education has revised its moniker to better reflect its mission.
Meanwhile, this fall will mark the launch of a new minor expected to enroll large numbers of undergraduates.
“The big news for the department is the name change. We’re dropping the word ‘adult,’ ” says Suzanne Degges-White, chair of what is becoming the Department of Counseling and Higher Education.
So-called “adult education” encompassed a major area of study in the United States in the 1970s, attracting students in search of community-based learning methods that centered on specific adult populations.
Jobs could include workforce development inside companies or teaching English as a Second Language at community centers. Students at NIU now find that preparation in the College of Business’ Department of Management or in the College of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction.
“Over time, the focus of our program has been increasingly centered around Higher Education and Student Affairs. Those around the career paths that students seeking Higher Education degrees are now falling into over the last five or 10 years,” she says.
“Because we know what our market is, and because we know what our students want to do with their lives, we’ve been able to make this huge shift in focus,” she adds.
“We want to be really pure in our brand – that what we do is Higher Education and Student Affairs. It’s giving us the competitive edge we need to capture students who saw ‘Adult Education’ and thought, ‘No, that’s not the career I want. I want to work in Financial Aid. I want to be an advisor.’ ”
Graduate students will find such preparation in the newly named master’s program in Higher Education and Student Affairs.
Doctoral students, meanwhile, can choose from the department’s traditional Higher Education Ed.D. with specializations in higher education administration or college teaching, or the Ed.D. in Community College Leadership.
The latter degree program, coordinated by assistant professor Xiaodan Hu, allows NIU to “grab hold of a niche market,” Degges-White says. Members of the first cohort graduated May 10.
“We’ve really listened to feedback from across the state, and from other stakeholders in our area through our community college partnerships,” she says. “Community colleges have grown, and stakeholders shared concerns about an upcoming leadership vacuum.”
Some schools, including Harper College and the College of Lake County, previously contacted with NIU to offer related coursework on their campus but “fewer have the funding to do that.”
In creating the degree, however, with all fall and spring courses taught online and only one week of face-to-face each summer in Naperville, students have enrolled from Alabama, Kansas, Colorado and elsewhere. “We’re a nationally known program,” Degges-White says.
Yet graduate students are not the only ones flocking to the department: The new minor in Counseling that begins in the fall will fulfill a longtime vision for the faculty
“Traditionally, students coming into our master’s program are bringing Psychology degrees or Sociology degrees, and others may even be bringing Business degrees or Math degrees, and many wish they had had a little more opportunity to learn about the field and what the skills are like,” she says.
“We realized that it was time – and that the need and the market was there – to start a minor in Counseling. It was something we always talked about.”
Undergraduates have come to the department for electives such as CAHC 211: Career Planning or CAHC 400: Exploration in the Counseling Profession, she adds, but those courses often left students wondering “What’s next?” along with the desire to learn more about the profession.
Assistant professor Dana Isawi, who joined NIU in 2017, spearheaded the effort to develop a curriculum that allows students in any major to learn about the kinds of listening skills and helping skills they would need to work as counselors.
“She is very much invested in building this program, and developing the minor was something that was near to her own heart,” Degges-White says. “Students in our existing undergraduate classes are so excited the minor is going to open but because it has a path to a career they want to be involved in.”
Because the minor is a “natural lead-in” to the master’s degree, Degges-White and her colleagues are looking into the possibility of creating a guaranteed admission program, so long as all admission requirements are fully met.
Even students not planning on careers in counseling will find the minor valuable, she says.
“When you read about what employers want in their employees, one of the main deficit areas mentioned centers on soft skills – those relationship skills,” she says. “Having a minor in a program that encourages you and trains you to grow those personal, face-to-face, relational skills is going to improve students from any major and those people in their careers, regardless of discipline or industry.”