Northern Illinois University: Helping Students Climb the Ladder of Success

Social mobility and higher education go hand in hand, especially at Northern Illinois University.

In recent years, NIU has ranked high in providing low-income students with opportunities to earn degrees and good-paying jobs. According to Washington Monthly the university was among the top 200 universities in the nation in social mobility, research, and service in 2015. ranked the university 30th on its social mobility index.

“NIU is among those in a select group of the nation’s public universities cited in a recent Brookings Institution report for success at both serving as an engine of social mobility and producing world-class research,” NIU President Lisa Freeman said. “Only about 20 percent of the 342 public universities studied managed to accomplish both objectives. NIU’s ranking was the highest among Illinois public universities.”

NIU offers more than 100 undergraduate programs, 80 graduate-degree and doctoral programs from seven colleges including business, engineering, and health. NIU’s College of Engineering and Engineering Technology was ranked by US News and World Report as one of the top 70 for its undergraduate engineering program in the 2016 Best Colleges report.

Freeman notes that students in the university’s physics program are part of leading-edge research at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in nearby Batavia, the Argonne National Library in Lemont, and at CERN in Switzerland. The university’s College of Business works with regional industries to develop programs to meet regional needs.

“Our new and unique baccalaureate program called NIU PLUS allows our undergraduates to customize their academic experience and to turn ever hands-on learning experience – from research to service-learning to internships to college jobs – into a professional development opportunity aligned with their career goals and aspirations.”

Freeman says the university is regularly seeking feedback from area employers and several colleges like the business and engineering colleges have created advisory boards to ensure students are learning the skills that local employers need both now and in the future. The university also works with economic development groups and community colleges to address workforce needs.

“We are starting to connect employers directly with our faculty for discussions about desired skills sets, particularly in fields with more technical engagement,” Freeman said. “NIU also uses ‘real-time’ labor market information to make sure that our programs respond to employers’ needs and that our students understand the types of careers for which they will be prepared upon graduation. This data helps shape not only the technical skills and knowledge taught through our curriculum, but also the essential employability skills that make for desirable employees.”

As workforce needs change, inevitable the way students learn will need to change too. NIU is already thinking ahead. Students can take classes online or on one of the university’s five campuses in DeKalb, Rockford, Naperville and the Lorado Taft Field and Hoffman Estate campuses. Partnerships with community colleges also allow students to start earning their four-year degree at 17 community colleges before transitioning to NIU to complete their education.

“We want to build on the programs and collaborations that enhance engaged learning for our students,” Freeman said. “This includes expanding our partnerships with businesses, industry and federal research laboratories where our students have unparalleled experiences that make them highly sought after by employers and graduate programs.”

Article courtesy of Intersect Illinois September 2017 magazine.