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Majors & Degrees

Dakota state programs rank well in national, regional lists

January 24, 2017

Dakota State University closed out 2016 with several high rankings on college lists, including a #1 ranking for its online master’s in health informatics degree by Nonprofit Colleges Online.

With the new year came new rankings for Dakota State University programs, including another #1 ranking, for the most affordable online master’s in information systems assurance and security for 2017.

In the last two months, DSU has received 24 rankings from 10 organizations. There is a reason for the plethora of rankings.

“We have grown into a ranking culture,” said Dr. Richard Hanson, interim provost and vice-president for academic affairs.

“While there is some value in comparative analysis,” Hanson said, “the problem is it is often an apples and oranges comparison.”

“What matters is the growth of the individual student from the moment they enter the institution, until the time they leave the institution. Rankings do not measure that.”

Some sites acknowledge those limitations. College Choice says on their website that the methodologies used “are a nuanced research tools that demand attentive and vigilant consumers.”

“A potential student must spend time discerning how the college rankings are presented and why certain programs are better than programs of lesser stature,” the quote continued. “It is up to the consumer of information to be savvy and have a healthy skepticism for claims made on the internet.”

Dr. Ashley Podhradsky, associate professor in the College of Computing, noted a recent Computer Science Zone rankings which listed DSU 7th for the information assurance master’s degree. In addition to rankings, students should look at the history of the program in which they are interested, she said, the faculty, the course offerings, and the different support which the courses have.

DSU, for example, has a Cybersecurity Industry Advisory Board which provides support to programs like information assurance. It is made up of about 20 organizations and businesses that hire DSU graduates, such as SDN Communications, Avera Health and Sanford Health, the National Guard, Premier Bank, Vantage Point, SBS CyberSecurity, Inc. These company representatives look at the curriculum and provide feedback on any instructional gaps. “That’s an important part of our work,” she said.

Podhradsky also recommended that students see if they can get a meeting or a phone call with the person who runs the program. If they can’t, it likely won’t happen when they are a student. “Rankings are good but getting that one-on-one individual attention is also necessary.” She is coordinator of the information assurance and computer security program, and talked to four prospective students over Christmas break.

Visiting with professors will also show if the program lines up with the student’s goals. She recommends programs which have a balance of theory and applied work.

“I can teach you how to do forensics with a tool,” she said, “but anytime it deviates from that in the real world you’re totally lost. You need to learn the theory behind it, because when the tools change you can adapt to the technology.”

“To me that’s an important differentiation,” she added.

“Program reputation is critical,” said Dr. Mark Hawkes, DSU’s Dean of the Graduate Studies and Research, and “These recognitions definitely speak to the quality of our graduate programs in a very competitive graduate education environment.  We are grateful for them,” he said, because “They reflect a strong faculty line-up and their ability to engage students.”

However, “each student should consider their professional goals and closely study the university’s ability to help them achieve those goals,” he added. 

In the end, “we believe the strongest endorsement of our programs is in the gratitude of our students and the job offers they receive upon graduation.”

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