As a Carnegie classified public Masters institution, MSU Billings offers graduatedegree programs in education—with options in elementary/secondary education, special education, school counseling, reading education and early childhood education—psychology, public relations, public administration, rehabilitation and mental health counseling, health administration, athletic training, and sport/ recreation and fitness management. The University is committed to ensuring that all of its graduate students complement the theoretical study of a subject with investigation and practical application.
MSU Billings has a set of Core Values that flow from the University Mission and guide departments and colleges in making decisions about graduate programs. The University’s Mission, Vision, and Core Values emphasize the importance of being responsive to the changing needs of learners and their communities. Growing from two Masters programs in one college (1965-1992) to ten degree-granting programs across three colleges today, Graduate Studies has evidenced a commitment to these goals, helping students across the state and beyond develop new knowledge, expertise, leadership, and civic responsibility.
The University’s commitment to both access and excellence is addressed by the increasing number of graduate-level courses offered online. In the College of Allied Health Professions, the Master of Health Administration program is an online program; other programs offer varying numbers of online classes.
The availability of online classes and programs is considered a strength since it expands opportunities to participate in graduate programs to areas not currently served by the Montana University System. Students are enrolled in graduate programs throughout Montana, across the United States, and from outside the United States. The University’s commitment to technology, both in terms of equipment in classrooms and faculty offices and in providing ongoing technology instruction and support for faculty, has resulted in a significant proportion of faculty members who are proficient in teaching online.
As is often the case, a commitment to goals can lead to unintended consequences. Expansion of online offerings, although consistent with University goals and values, has created new challenges for the University. Online courses allow many students who would not be able to take campus courses to complete all or parts of programs online. At the same time, many students who could take campus classes prefer the convenience of online learning. As a result, enrollment in campus classes is impacted by the availability of the same courses online. Students either choose to take the online section over the campus section in a given semester or wait until they can take required courses online. Finding a healthy balance between online and campus offerings that will maximize graduate student opportunities while not endangering the viability of campus classes is an ongoing challenge.
A second challenge arises from the fact that faculty members may have little face-to-face contact with students who choose online classes or are enrolled in online programs. Faculty members express concerns that qualitative elements that must be developed and assessed through personal interaction may be negatively impacted by online instruction. One solution instituted by the College of Education for a graduate online Teacher Preparation Program was to require students to attend a five-week summer session over two summers; courses better suited to campus delivery were offered during the summer sessions, and faculty members had the opportunity to get to know and assess cohort participants.
- 1.1 Mission Document;
- 2.5 Graduate Catalog; Table of online offerings by program
Outcomes assessment is crucial to the ongoing success of graduate programs. Graduate faculty must have reliable indicators that graduate students possess the requisite content knowledge, research skills, and professional competencies appropriate to each graduate program in order to evaluate and strengthen programs. The nature of graduate education includes attention to the values of the discipline, research methodology, major questions in the discipline, professional competencies and current literature in the field. Graduate students are expected to demonstrate a deep understanding of the disciplinary literature, as well as to formulate their position relative to that literature/research/praxis. This level of sophistication is not widely expected of undergraduate students. As graduate program enrollments have increased, colleges have expanded graduate offerings so that few programs now require graduate students to take undergraduate courses. When enrollment does not justify separate courses for graduate students, most instructors make additional requirements of graduate students to assure that they are asked to go beyond what is required of undergraduate students.
Infusing graduate programs with programmatic outcomes and multiple measures of those outcomes has required rethinking the basic structure of most programs. At this point all graduate programs have identified specific and measurable outcomes that are indicated in the graduate catalog. Colleges are still in the process of determining how best to measure outcomes. For example, College of Education faculty have developed a set of six standards outlining what graduate students must
know and be able to do that applies to all COE graduate programs. The COE Graduate Committee will present a proposal to the college Fall 2008 to require all master’s candidates, both those seeking initial teaching licensure and those seeking an advanced degree, to demonstrate that standards have been met by writing and defending a thesis or by passing a written comprehensive exam and either an internship or an action research project. Graduate candidates in other colleges are required to engage in significant research appropriate to their field of study and to produce documents, portfolios, research reports, or a thesis, either within program courses or as a capstone to their program (described in section 2b).
Programs linked to specific disciplinary accreditations focus on the learning and performance of their students. Expectations for classroom work and presentations for terminal documents vary somewhat from program to program. However, while this is to be expected, attention to these areas is consistent both at the program level and through the governing councils of the University. The Graduate Committee has the responsibility to oversee the integrity of graduate education across the campus. Specifically, the Graduate Committee, made up of representatives from the three colleges offering graduate degrees, reviews course and program changes, identifies and addresses issues affecting graduate programs across campus, and establishes, enforces, and reviews graduate policy.
Evidence: 2.5 Graduate Catalog