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Online engineering graduate program remains among top 15 nationwide

Photo by Nick Narducci/ASU

January 12, 2017

In the latest U.S. News & World Report Best Online Graduate Engineering Programs rankings, the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University maintains its place among the top 15 online programs in the country.

The Fulton Schools has annually appeared in the top 15 since 2014, and in 2017 it is ranked 13 out of 87 schools — tied with Virginia Tech. 

The rankings are based on four weighted categories: student engagement, faculty credentials and training, student services and technology, peer reputation and admissions selectivity.

Student engagement is the highest weighted category, and takes into account graduation rate, class size and retention rate.

The Fulton Schools offers an average class size of 13 students, with 83 percent of class sections containing less than 20 students. In total, more than 400 students are enrolled in online graduate engineering programs, including global engineering and technical professionals in their early and late careers, as well as transfer students and military veterans.

In 2016, the Fulton Schools saw a 1 percent increase in retention, with 79 percent of the students who first enrolled between July 1, 2014, and July 30, 2015, re-enrolling within the next year.

“It’s all about continuing to grow our programs, while maintaining a personal touch with the students,” said Octavio Heredia, director of the Fulton Schools’ Global Outreach and Extended Education.

Faculty credentials stand out

Impressively, among the top 50 ranked schools, the Fulton Schools had the fourth-highest score in the faculty credentials and training category, scoring 95 out of 100. In addition to discipline-specific credentials, this individual rubric measures how well a school prepares qualified instructors to teach remotely.

The Fulton Schools has 51 engineering faculty members involved in online education, 38 of whom are tenured or tenure-track faculty members and leaders in their fields.

Many of the online faculty members have received notable recognition for their research and teaching impact, including those who are National Academy of Engineering members, professional association fellows, Regents’ Professors, National Science Foundation CAREER Award recipients and winners of the Fulton Schools’ Top 5% Teaching Awards.

The U.S. News and World Report’s grading rubric emphasizes that strong online programs have resources to train instructors in distance teaching methods.

The Fulton Schools offers these resources in conjunction with ASU Online and takes a collaborative approach with faculty members.

“For us, it’s about partnering with faculty to develop and implement digital and technological experiences and teaching strategies that bring out the best in their curriculum,” said Heredia.

Heredia leads a growing number of Fulton Schools staff who partner with faculty to enhance online education at ASU.

This includes giving faculty the opportunity to participate in programs, webinars and workshops focused on successful online instruction. In addition, the Fulton Schools are investing in engineering-specific instruction and coursework design techniques.

Expanding technological offerings

A particular strength of the online faculty members is their willingness to employ technological innovations, another key component of the U.S. News & World Report’s grading rubric.

The thoughtful and appropriate use of technology allows online students to easily replicate, or even go beyond, the offerings of a physical classroom.

“This is imperative because these students must meet the same degree requirements and complete the same curriculum asked of our on-campus graduate students,” said Pat Phelan, assistant dean for graduate programs in the Fulton Schools.

The Fulton Schools’ online programs include access to leading technologies to enable high-quality, engaging learning experiences for students.

“We don’t try to mimic the effect of traditional lecturing — instead we use technology to extend and improve traditional lecturing,” said Marco Saraniti, vice dean of faculty administration and an electrical engineering professor who teaches both online and on-campus courses at ASU.

In the online format, one approach that students use to interact with instructors is by utilizing tablets and virtual office hours. In these meetings, instructors can share their tablet screen with the student in real time, allowing the student to see what the instructor writes on the screen. At the termination of the meeting, the handwritten notes are automatically saved and shared as a PDF.

In lab courses, the online programs incorporate a combination of practical hardware, along with industry–standard design and simulation tools — including lab kits that implement a suite of instruments for laptop exercises, proto-boards for assembling physical circuits identical to those of the resident students, and even remotely controllable electron microscopes that allow students to view samples in real-time from their own remote workspaces.

The Fulton School online education has shown commitment to leveraging technology to deliver quality engineering education all over the world, as well. Through Global Outreach and Extended Education, the Fulton Schools worked with Intel Vietnam to establish an online graduate program for the Intel Campus in Ho Chi Minh City.

“For the students it was a fantastic experience. … They were part of a world-class program, taught by very accomplished and experienced professors,” said Javier Perez Bordallo, Intel Vietnam manufacturing director. “The program is demanding, but at the same time flexible enough to accommodate the business and school needs.”

Student success resources

Technology is also employed in offering a range of online student support services, such as academic advising, 24/7 technical support, financial aid services, mentoring and live tutoring, career placement assistance and comprehensive library services to support distance students.

The emphasis is often on “success coaching” rather than “career coaching,” since many of the online students are already working professionals, said Heredia.

According to the U.S. News & World Report overview, 94 percent of students are employed when they enroll for online graduate engineering programs within the Fulton Schools.

“We’re continually investing in student-success resources that are helpful to a unique population of students — those who have already found their career, but are looking to take it a step further,” said Phelan.

To this end, the online programs continually emphasize applied experiences and industry-relevant topics and projects.

Continuing to enhance the online experience

ASU’s long history in distance-learning programs started 30 years ago with programs offered to corporate sites through interactive TV networks and satellites.

In 2002, the Fulton Schools offered its first online engineering graduate degree program, and it has since grown to include eight undergraduate and 13 graduate degree programs, as well as two online graduate engineering certificates and a full portfolio of professional and executive programs.

During the next year, the Fulton Schools aim to increase enrollment and quality simultaneously, particularly with the introduction of new technology-supported experiences. There’s also a commitment to developing partnerships with education and technology leaders.

“Distance education paired with curated technology has a lot of potential, and we’re continuing to develop new innovations to enhance the online experiences of the engineering community,” said Jeff Goss, assistant dean and executive director of Global Outreach and Extended Education.

“After three years among the top 15 programs, we are on the cusp of breaking into the top 10,” said Kyle Squires, dean of the Fulton Schools.

“Our consistently high rankings are a tribute to our outstanding faculty and students, and leverage our ability to impact the quality of technology and engineering sectors worldwide, making the global engineering community — and all the creative solutions it brings to pass — that much better,” said Squires.

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