It isn’t every day that online degree programs are recognized, but the Tseng College and the College of Social & Behavioral Sciences at California State University, Northridge, however, are excited for its most recent national recognition for the online master’s degree in social work program (MSW).
For Tseng staff, the online MSW 12th-place national ranking by bestcolleges.com comes as no major surprise, since the program is part of a decorated university.
Julia Potter, Tseng College external relations director, said the program’s award recognizes CSUN’s excellent education opportunities as a whole.
“It’s a CSUN award that recognizes the excellence of the Department of Social Work and its faculty as well as the excellence of the instructional designers and technology team in the Tseng College to create a highly ranked program,” Potter said. “The academic home for every degree program that comes out of Tseng resides in the academic college. When you get these external awards, you’re being recognized for the quality and the student experience.”
Tseng College Dean Joyce Feucht-Haviar said the award highlights CSUN’s mission to provide an excellent education for a variety of students.
“CSUN focuses on providing the outstanding program design and student support services needed to keep its graduation rates so remarkably high,” she said. “The online program accreditation … is as high as those achieved in their classroom-delivered counterparts.”
Maggie Shiffrar, assistant vice president of graduate studies, explained that CSUN’s graduate programs are among the top producers of graduates in the University of California and California State University systems.
“Most people in California think that graduate education is something that only happens in the UC system,” she said. “This just points out that it happens there, but we’re doing it, too.”
CSUN had nearly 5,400 graduating master’s degree students last year, placing it with the third-highest graduation rate in comparison to the UCs and CSUs, Shiffrar said.
The reason behind such high graduation rates is the ability to provide the education in different formats that suit different types of students, Shiffrar said.
Shiffrar explained that because Tseng has a self-support structure, it pays for fully online graduate programs without using state funding at CSUN. This gives CSUN more student outreach by providing a variety of different learning environments, a traditional on-campus classroom or a more flexible online experience.
“Self-support programs allow us to serve students that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to,” she said. “It [also] gives people a choice. Do I want to have a more traditional experience where I physically come to campus or do I want to take some online courses, courses with work colleagues, off campus?”
Potter added that the online MSW is crafted with the mid-career adult in mind. Potter explained the master’s programs are structured into cohorts, so each graduate student is placed with the same group until degree completion. “Part of that is really the learning experience, because it creates a sense of the learning community. You get to know the people in your cohort,” she said.
Shiffrar added that there is extensive research supporting the cohort model in graduate-level courses.
“There is some research that suggests that graduate students who come from families with members who haven’t gone to college or grad school struggle more. They get ‘imposter syndrome,’ where they feel they don’t belong,” she said. “The cohort model really helps because when you become part of a unit, you feel included and supported. It can make all the difference in the world.”
For CSUN, the program’s success is not just a sign of good work, but a call to create more opportunities for students who wish to get master’s degrees at an esteemed university, Shiffrar said.
Some new programs in development include master’s degrees in nursing, hospitality management and interdisciplinary studies. “Right now, we’re developing tracks for interdisciplinary studies,” she said. “These are [going to be] custom-designed degrees. In graduate studies, you want to push the boundaries.”
Potter explained the award is a chance to be proud of the great quality of CSUN’s educational environment. “When you get these external awards, you’re being recognized for the quality and the student experience,” Potter said.