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January 7, 2015

Photo of laptop computersThe Northern Illinois University College of Education is upholding its nationally celebrated tradition of excellence in online graduate programs, according to new rankings released today by U.S. News & World Report.

Honored among the nation’s Top 4 for the third consecutive year, NIU is one of only three schools to have scored 90 or more points in the methodology.

“I am proud of the continued recognition and success of our online graduate programs as among the top in the country,” Dean La Vonne I. Neal said.

“This is a reflection of what happens when our faculty and staff align their hard work and expertise with our goal of ensuring that technology not only provides convenience for our students, but also enhances their experience here in such a way that we continue our proud tradition of producing alumni who are leaders in their field.”

U.S. News ranked 239 schools, including 10 in Illinois.

Consideration is given to programs where students can complete all mandatory coursework via distance education courses that incorporate Internet-based learning technologies. Requirements for coming to campus for orientation, testing or academic support services do not exclude programs.

NIU finished foremost among Land of Lincoln institutions, the closest of which is the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign at No. 47. Among Mid-American Conference schools, Central Michigan University is ranked No. 5 while Ball State University placed eighth.

La Vonne I. Neal and Wei-Chen Hung

La Vonne I. Neal and Wei-Chen Hung

Programs are ranked on student engagement, student services and technology, faculty credentials and training, admissions selectivity and peer reputation.

Of those, student engagement carries the most weight and accounts for 35 percent of the score.

“Quality online graduate education programs grant aspiring teachers and educational administrators opportunities to readily interact with their instructors and classmates,” according to the methodology. “In turn, instructors are not only accessible and responsive, but they are also tasked with helping to create an experience rewarding enough that students stay enrolled and complete their degrees in a reasonable amount of time.”

Online courses are offered in the college’s departments of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, chaired by Patrick Roberts, and Educational Technology, Research and Assessment (ETRA), chaired by Wei-Chen Hung.

ETRA offers a program aimed at students wanting to become technology specialists, and LEPF has a program for students wanting to become school business managers. The programs began in 2009 and offer cohorts that typically graduate within two years: 85 percent of all students enrolled graduate in two years.

Hung said ETRA’s online programs “are distinctive in that they are grounded in problem-based learning curriculum.”

“That means that students and instructors collaborate to solve real-world, authentic problems derived from student’s work experience and issues that are happening in the field today,” he said.

“The problem-based learning approach is very challenging to implement, and very few online graduate programs take this approach,” he added, “but our faculty members work very hard and take great pride in providing meaningful instruction that is immediately applicable in the workplace.”