Committee requests addition, deletion of academic programs

Noah Thornburgh

Sixteen programs, including three Ph.Ds, are waiting on approval at the next Board of Trustees meeting June 13.

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The Academic Affairs, Student Affairs and Personnel Committee recommended three Ph.D programs in Engineering, seven certificates, two minors and four emphases/specializations, according to the May 9 committee report. The committee requested five program deletions for insufficient student enrollment in the required courses or because the university plans to update them with replacement programs.

The requests will go to the board for a vote. If accepted, they will be sent to the Illinois Board of Higher Education for final approval.

Omar Ghrayeb, vice provost of undergraduate studies, said readjustments like these are typical for NIU. The administration tries to keep all programs current based on the needs of the state and employers, he said.

In 2018, the committee recommended 13 new programs and 8 program deletions, according to committee reports.

Doctoral degrees

What’s atypical about the requests are the Ph.D programs, Ghrayeb said.

Three Ph.Ds are up for approval: Electrical Engineering, Industrial and Systems Engineering and Mechanical Engineering. All three include the Industrial Fellowship Program, which pairs Ph.D. students with a company partnered with NIU, according to the committee report. These students will get at least six months of field experience as an intern with their paired company.

Donald Peterson, dean of the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology, said the fellowships aim to get students prepared for industry jobs with practical skills learned through the fellowship.

A doctorate of engineering himself, Ghrayeb said his training in a traditional Ph.D. program was theory-focused and academic.

“When it comes to hands-on, practical knowledge, we lack that,” he said.

Seventy percent of Ph.D. recipients seek jobs in industry rather than academia, according to a 2011 study by The American Society of Engineering Education cited in the committee report.

Peterson said the programs will require “minimal” funding from the university. They are the only requests by the committee that require funding, according to the report.

Certificates

Several of the deleted emphases and specializations are being replaced with certificates.

Certificates come in undergraduate and graduate categories. Undergraduate students in any major may earn any undergraduate certificate by taking the required undergraduate courses. The same holds for graduate students and the corresponding certificates.

Board Chairperson Dennis Barsema said certificates allow people to display competence in a field. They’re a transcript notation that employers often notice, he said.

NIU President Lisa Freeman said certificates enable students to engage their diverse interests, because certificates do not require the student to be in the related program — unlike emphases and specializations.

The Latino/Latin American Studies graduate concentration — which had zero enrolled students — is being replaced by a certificate that’s already received interest from students outside the program, said Christina Abreu, director of the Center of Latino and Latin American studies.

There aren’t any “overt savings” in the budget from these readjustments, Barsema said.

Ghrayeb said the committees recommendations are a part of ongoing enrollment-boosting strategies, designed to make the university competitive.

“We are committed to offering current programs that ensure graduates have skills and competencies to succeed in their careers,” he said.

Ghrayeb said the success of these programs will be measured by enrollment numbers, graduate placement and meeting benchmarks as students move through the program.