Brenau’s online academics ranked among top 10 nationally in U.S. News & World Report 2012 rankings

Feb 27, 2012
Brenau Staff

In U.S. News & World Report’s comprehensive 2012 directory and rankings of online degree programs, several of Brenau University online graduate and undergraduate studies ranked in the top tier of programs from colleges and universities around the United States, including Top 10 “Honor Roll” status for its online master’s degree-level tracks in the College of Education.

The Brenau education graduate studies, which lead to Master of Education or Education Specialist degrees (considered to be between a master’s and a doctorate), ranked 9th in the nation in the faculty credentials and training category, 19th for student services and technology and 38th for student engagement and accreditation. Brenau University was the only Georgia higher education institution, public or private, selected for inclusion in any Honor Roll category.

Among more than 500 institutions assessed for the study, Brenau’s online graduate business studies ranked 41st in the nation for faculty credentials and training, 57th for student services and technology and 119th for student engagement and accreditation.

Brenau online bachelor degree programs ranked 73rd for student services and technology and 148th for student engagement and assessment.

“The availability of the online academic platform is essential to higher education in the future,” said Brenau President Ed Schrader. “That means we have to be very, very good at delivering the highest quality academics on that platform. We are pleased that this first U.S. News & World Report rating shows that Brenau has made great strides in that direction.”

Currently more than 500 Brenau students, or roughly 18 percent of the total student population of about 2,800, take 100 percent of their classes online at Brenau. Among those, about 50 seek advanced degrees from the College of Education. Additionally, each semester about 1,600 Brenau students, more than 50 percent of the student population, take at least one class online. Schrader expects that by the end of the next decade a significant majority of the Brenau student population, which is expected to double by 2025, will engage routinely in online courses.

Students only taking online courses typically are non-traditional students: adult learners seeking advanced or undergraduate degrees while working full-time jobs and managing busy schedules of family and personal lives away from college campuses. However, that is not always the case. Residential students at the 134-year-old Brenau Women’s College also occasionally take courses online to resolve scheduling conflicts with other courses and time-consuming activities like participating in theatrical productions.

The current online Brenau students include a woman pursuing a master’s in education from her current residence in United Arab Emirates as well as an undergraduate who lives near Brenau’s home campus in Gainesville, Ga., who sees online courses as a convenient way to juggle her academic schedule while she participates in intercollegiate sports.

Rebecca Gough, who received an undergraduate degree from Brenau in 2009, said she knew she would return to Brenau for graduate studies. She just did not know that her return would involve a 7,500-mile “commute.” The candidate for a master’s degree in education for the past two years has been teaching kindergarten in a trilingual school (Arabic, English, and Chinese) in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

“I chose Brenau because of the small class sizes, flexibility of the schedule and the reputation of the faculty,” said Gough, a Lawrenceville, Ga., native. “I find that when I need assistance with any of my classes, the professors are available and willing to help, whether you are on campus or online.”

Freshman Brittany Aikens, a member of the Golden Tigers cross country team who was the first Brenau runner ever to qualify for the NAIA national meet last fall, said she loves taking classes online. The early childhood education student at Brenau University said online learning works best for her because it eliminates the distractions of traditional classes and saves her money and time commuting to and from campus.

Kimberly Barnett, a seventh-grade language arts teacher at McConnell Middle School in Gwinnett County, is working toward a master’s degree in middle-grades education online from Brenau. Although she conceded that the “anytime, anywhere” nature of online classes provide great convenience for those juggling jobs, family life and education, she quickly added that those who might think online courses might be easier than in-class counterparts would be mistaken.

“It involves a lot more reading and looking into what you’re doing, how to improve it and finding things out on your own,” she said. Another plus factor for her, she added, is that her being able to work and go to school at the same time are making her a better teacher because she is able to instantly use what she’s learned. She credits instant application of things she learned in an online classroom technology course for helping her win Technology Teacher of the Month honors at her school.

Barnett also praised the online platform as an enabler of better communication between faculty and students because the interaction is virtually instantaneous and continuous. However, she also has a unique channel for providing her feedback on what’s working and what is not: her husband, David, oversees all of Brenau’s online academic instruction and also is dean of the College of Education.

The content of courses “is exactly the same that a person would see in a traditional face-to-face class,” said David Barnett. “The only difference is that the course assignments, content and conversations are transmitted to and from remote locations over the internet.”

He says, however, that the instant access to information can make teaching the course more difficult. Because the students can access the class at any time, instructors may find themselves spending more time on an online class than they would in a traditional classroom. Students tend to expect instructors to get back with them on questions and assignments in a relatively short time.

Brenau requires faculty to teach online by adding another item on their academic resumes: they each must complete two training courses in online delivery. And those courses, of course, are delivered online. “They really take the course from the student perspective so they can understand what it’s like to use the tools,” Barnett said. “People are becoming more accustomed to this type of communication and interaction. As online students, they have the ability to learn from sources all over the planet.”

Christina White, dean of graduate admissions at Brenau, not only helps recruit students for online studies at Brenau, but also she has been one of the university’s online customers. “Brenau’s online programs are rigorous,” she said. “The university works hard to make sure learning outcomes are equivalent regardless of platform. One of the most difficult courses I had [en route to an M.B.A.] was an online course in accounting.”

The 2012 listings mark the first time that U.S. News has ranked top online education degree programs. The magazine ranked five disciplines at the master’s degree level: business, education and nursing as well as two disciplines Brenau does not offer: computer information technology and engineering. Additionally, U.S. News ranked online bachelor’s degree programs combining data from all undergraduate level disciplines.

Here is a listing of Brenau’s online degree programs: Educational Specialist in Early Childhood Education (Ed.S.), Educational Specialist in Middle Grades Education (Ed.S.), Master of Business Administration (M.B.A), Master of Business Administration in Accounting, Master of Business Administration in Healthcare Management, Master of Business Administration in Insurance Management, Master of Business Administration in Project Management, Master of Education in Early Childhood Education (M.Ed.), Master of Education in Middle Grades Education, Master of Fine Arts in Interior Design (M.F.A.), Master of Science in Applied Gerontology, Associate of Arts (A.A.) in Liberal Studies (2-year), Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Leadership, Bachelor of Business Administration (B.B.A.) Degree, Accounting, Business Administration, Bachelor of Science (B.S.) Degree in Human Resources Management, Registered Nurse – Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN – B.S.N.).

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