Another January, another celebration of a Top 5 ranking from U.S. News & World Report for the NIU College of Education’s online graduate programs.
NIU is tied for fifth with the University of Houston and Utah State University this year, bringing the Top 5 streak to six consecutive years. The College of Education also made the “honor roll” in 2012, the first year that U.S. News began collecting data on online graduate education programs.
Dean Laurie Elish-Piper is proud, but not surprised, that NIU tops all other Illinois and Mid-American Conference colleagues.
“Being ranked in the Top 5 for the last six years really affirms the quality and consistency of our NIU College of Education online graduate programs,” Elish-Piper says.
“One aspect of the ranking that I’m most proud of is the ranking for faculty qualifications,” the dean adds. “Our faculty and staff are on the cutting edge of online learning, and it’s exciting to see their great work being consistently honored.”
Indeed, NIU scored 94 out of 100 in the Faculty Credentials and Training category. The college also earned high marks for Student Engagement (89 out of 100) and in Student Services and Technology (79 out of 100).
Meanwhile, the college earned a Peer Assessment score of 3 on a scale of 1 to 5.
U.S. News creates and offers its list of Best Online Graduate Education Programs to inform those teachers who aspire to grow their careers.
The NIU College of Education offers three online master’s degrees within the departments of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment (ETRA) and Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations (LEPF):
ETRA Chair Wei-Chen Hung, who is quick to credit faculty members for their continued dedication to excellence in online education, reports that his department has achieved a desirable milestone.
“Some of our students say they feel no difference between face-to-face and online because they feel that the dynamics of the interaction is always there between students and faculty,” Hung says.
“Our students receive the best instruction and learning opportunities in online environments, and most students are not surprised by that. They say, ‘Of course!’ That’s the first reaction they have,” he adds. “I believe this is due to the faculty’s high qualifications to teach these courses online and their incorporation of innovative teaching methods.”
Faculty in ETRA strive to retain the U.S. News ranking by participating in professional development to stay up-to-date on their skills, he says.
Naturally, he adds, the professors and instructors also care deeply about fostering student success and doing what is needed to ensure that.
“Last year, we were very purposeful to initiate quality-measures training,” Hung says. “As a result, every faculty member who teaches online was also certified to teach and to design and develop online courses. Some even went on to become certified reviewers of online courses to support other faculty members who want to develop online courses.”
Carolyn Pluim, chair of LEPF, calls the latest ranking “a clear reflection of the expertise that we have teaching in the program area.
“We have a really nice blend of faculty members and instructors who’ve had years of experience in the field,” Pluim says, “and there is a strong commitment to making the online program very applicable to the needs of working students. Our flexible online program enables students who would otherwise not be able to take two years out their professional lives to participate.”
She credits the department’s close and strong relationship with the Illinois Association of School Business Officials (IASBO) for recruiting top students and faculty to NIU.
Between 20 and 25 new students begin the program every other semester, she says, with at least three cohorts progressing through the curriculum simultaneously.
“I have yet to see an end of people who want this degree, to be honest,” Pluim says.
“We adhere to routine course updates to remain relevant and to reflect current best practices that are very applicable to what the students are going to be facing in the field,” she adds. “We’ve also got people in the program who are often grappling with the same kinds of questions that our courses are asking them to problem-solve around. The blend of theoretical knowledge and practical applications makes for a richer classroom dialogue.”
Other Illinois schools ranked include the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (25), the University of St. Francis (36), Concordia (88), McKendree University (107), Roosevelt University (125) and the University of Illinois at Springfield (131).
Mid-American Conference schools in the rankings include Buffalo (15), Ohio (18), Ball State (36), Central Michigan (46), Bowling Green (88), Kent State (107), Toledo (107), Eastern Michigan (148) and Western Michigan (150).