Courtesy of the University

Students in the distance learning program engage in activities while on campus.

February 14, 2018

Online Engineering Program Ranked No. 10, Driven by Industry Demand for Degree

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Named No. 10 in the Best Online Graduate Engineering Programs for a fourth year, Cornell’s systems engineering distance learning program hopes to continue to emphasize the project-based learning that program directors believe has influenced their success.

The program hopes to use the rankings as a “feedback mechanism” to improve, according to Prof. David Schneider, director of M.Eng. studies for systems engineering.

Although some distance learning programs may shy away from combining the online and on-campus learning experience, Cornell’s Systems Engineering M.Eng. Distance Learning program requires its students to attend two, one-week campus experiences.

This element serves as a testament to the program’s success as many distance learning students “even [give] up their [work] vacation time” to participate in the on-campus component of the degree, according to Schneider.

The program offers students the exact same degree as on-campus students. Online and on-campus masters participants enroll in the same courses and have the same faculty, “so there’s no watering down” as a result of the course being an online platform, Schneider said. “It definitely is a Cornell degree.”

Students in the program vary in age and skill sets, but tend to be college graduates in the early stages of their careers.

Schneider considers the range of disciplines and perspectives represented in the program a crucial advantage, as it often means that the distance-learning students bear “a maturity and experience that really can add a lot to the overall project experience.”

The No.10 ranking was announced in the U.S. News & World Report rankings in January and took into consideration various metrics, including student engagement and faculty credentials and training.

This data provides the program leaders with “more data in order to really learn how to improve ourselves,” Schneider said.

While the program directors pay attention to rankings since they offer an idea of the program’s strengths, Schneider said this ranking is “just one feedback mechanism,” — one that also helps market the program, “particularly when a new company, perhaps one that hasn’t had experience might say … ‘let’s go check out those Cornell guys,’” he added.

“These various different kinds of awards and rankings are certainly appreciated and to be recognized,” Schneider said. “But they are just one data point that we consider in all of the different ways that we might measure success.”

Ensuring that they put together a really strong program is much more important than the ranking, Schneider said. For him, this includes maintaining relations with the industry and other professional organizations, because these groups often pay for their employees to complete the distance learning program.

Certain companies “come back repeatedly and often in larger numbers” and pay for their employees to dedicate time to this program, and this renewed demand ensures constant evolution of the program, Schneider said.

“In cooperation with some of our industrial connections we have developed a somewhat unique and rigorous set of courses and electives that have proven to be extremely useful to our graduates,” Prof. Al George, systems engineering, director of graduate studies told The Sun.

Schneider said that the online program’s extremely high graduation rate — 89 percent in 2016-2017, according to U.S. News & World Report — serves as further proof of its continued success based on the students’ willingness and excitement to return every year and complete the coursework.

“Most weeks I get an email from some alumni who speak about the quality of the program that they had, or that they’re still getting a lot out of it, or that it was a really valuable opportunity,” he said.

“One of the things that I always really like about the systems program — one of the things that made me want to be a part of it — was the fact that it is continuing to reevaluate itself and reach out to industry and other organizations to try to find out ‘how do we continue to be cutting edge?’” Schneider said.