Decade of distinction: U.S. News ranks online graduate degrees in nation’s best

Online graduate programs in the NIU College of Education are celebrating their 10th consecutive year of high acclaim from U.S. News & World Report.

The College of Education is ranked 21, placing in the top 10% of the 296 institutions assessed with an overall score of 91 out of 100.

NIU bests all Mid-American Conference schools – Ball State University is the closest, ranked at 35 – and is second only in the Land of Lincoln to the flagship University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

It continues a streak of recognition that began in 2012, when NIU made the “honor roll” in the first year that U.S. News began collecting data on online graduate education programs.

“This is such an amazing accomplishment and testament to the expertise and dedication of our faculty,” said Laurie Elish-Piper, dean of the NIU College of Education. “I am equally impressed by the quality and commitment of the students in our online programs.”

U.S. News based its 2021 rankings on five categories: Engagement; Expert Opinion; Faculty Credentials and Training; Services and Technologies; and Student Excellence.

NIU scored 94 out of 100 in the Faculty Credentials and Training category while earning an Expert Opinion score of 3.1 on a scale of 1 to 5.

The college also received high marks for Student Engagement (86 out of 100), which measures student satisfaction and instructor responsiveness; Student Excellence (84 out of 100), which measures how selective a school is in admitted highly qualified applicants; and for Student Services and Technology (79 out of 100), which measures financial, technical and vocational support available to distance learners.

Scores in Engagement, which account for 30% of a school’s total points, reflect opportunities provided to students “to readily interact” not only with classmates but with instructors who are “accessible and responsive” and who “create an experience rewarding enough that students stay enrolled and complete their degrees in a reasonable amount of time.”

Top: Laurie Elish-Piper and Wei-Chen Hung Bottom: Suzanne Degges-White and Carolyn Pluim
Top: Laurie Elish-Piper and Wei-Chen Hung
Bottom: Suzanne Degges-White and Carolyn Pluim

For the Faculty Credentials and Training score, meanwhile, reviewers look for “instructors with academic credentials that mirror those of instructors for campus-based programs” and for “the resources to train these instructors to teach distance learners.”

Wei-Chen Hung, chair of the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment, credits his department’s decade of distinction to just that.

“I would attribute our consistent ranking to faculty who have currency in their respective disciplines and ongoing training to ensure program quality,” Hung said.

“Our faculty continue to innovate on curriculum design and create meaningful virtual learning environment to promote authentic learning,” he added. “One key factor is our recognition of how the theory, research and literature from the fields of instructional technology and assessment contribute to adult learning in virtual environment.”

Hung’s department offers two of the college’s four online graduate degrees: the M.S.Ed. in Instructional Technology and the M.S. in Educational Research and Evaluation.

The others – the Ed.D. in Adult and Higher Education with an emphasis in Community College Leadership and the M.S.Ed. in School Business Management – are housed, respectively, in the Department of Counseling and Higher Education and the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations.

Carolyn Pluim, chair of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, partially credits external partnerships.

“I believe that a significant part of our success in School Business Management online program attributes to a solid program of study that is enriched through our ongoing collaboration with practitioners in the field as well as with our strong partnership with the Illinois Association of School Business Officials,” Pluim said. “These relationships ensure that our curriculum is contemporary, dynamic and responsive, and that our students are prepared for success when they graduate.”

Suzanne Degges-White, chair of Counseling and Higher Education, remains pleased by the growth in interest and enrollment in the Community College Leadership program since its launch five years ago.

The program attracts students from states across the country, including Alabama, Colorado, Missouri and Washington. NIU faculty are joined by national leaders in the community college field to deliver courses that focus on key ingredients for success that include strategic marketing, enrollment management, public policy and financing of higher education.

“With a focus on applied practice and action-based research, our three-year program allows mid-career professionals the preparation necessary to take on increasing levels of responsibility for the success of their institutions,” she added. “We provide students with cutting-edge information that readies them for their next step on the career ladder.”

Online certificates of graduate study also are available from the NIU College of Education in Postsecondary Developmental Literacy and Language Instruction, School Business Management and Trauma-Informed Counseling while online endorsements offered include Library Information Specialist, School Business Management and Technology Specialist.

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