Dr. Brian Cole, program director of the Master of Education in Higher Education, is an advocate for students interested in studying education in today’s national climate. As an associate professor in the School of Organizational Leadership, Brian is no stranger to being involved in higher education and seeking solutions to systemic issues. Alongside teaching, Dr. Cole also serves as a Faculty Fellow for ACU Dallas’ Duncum Center Solutions, a member of the Diversity Action Council, and as an editorial board member for ACU’s new research journal Tapestry: Journal of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging in Higher Education. Known for his charismatic attitude and drive to push his students toward success, Brian is deeply interested in cultivating and protecting the voice of his students as they embark on the journey toward becoming life-changing leaders.
In this Q&A, Dr. Cole shares his insights into what separates ACU Online’s Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Higher Education program from other institutions, his views on education, and how he seeks to activate cohorts of students engaged in changing their school’s dynamics.
What is the M.Ed. in Higher Education program?
The Master of Education in Higher Education, with concentrations in Academic Advising, Student Affairs Leadership, and Enrollment Management, prepares students for a broad range of administrative, financial aid, student affairs, programming, policy, or academic support roles. While in the program, students acquire an understanding of higher education’s history and current trends while specializing in their skill set to foster change from within an institution, collaborate with communities, and guide their classrooms more efficiently. Emphasizing research and data analysis, the online M.Ed. also sets the foundation for those wanting to seek a terminal degree in education.
What makes ACU Online’s M.Ed. in Higher Education different from other universities?
The most apparent difference between our higher education program and others is that ours is 100% online. Unlike other programs that require at least some degree of residency on their physical campus, our program allows students from anywhere in the world to complete the program. This distinctive remote modality is paired with a flexible concentration structure, which helps students focus their education on functional areas they are most interested in. Plus, we have highly experienced faculty, with many of our courses being taught by instructors currently working as administrators in higher education and experts in their fields,
What should an ACU graduate student expect to learn during the M.Ed. in Higher Education program?
A prospective student should expect to become a positive contributor to the work being done on college campuses, like learning the history of our educational system and getting a firm understanding of its present-day condition; it helps them understand where we are and how we got here. I also think a quality graduate program should expect students to address the anticipated future of higher education by becoming leaders focused on shaping the future by tackling today’s challenges. ACU offers well-designed and relevant courses designed by knowledgeable and engaged instructors who are interested in helping students learn and become more equipped to work in academia. As such, students entering the M.Ed. program should expect to have a rigorous curriculum based on scholarship to prepare them for practice in the field.
What skills/knowledge do students receive during their time in the program?
We teach students about the foundations of higher education in the U.S., which includes its historical development, philosophical foundations, structure, roles, and diverse characteristics. We also help students understand the management of resources, including human, financial, and physical, within institutions and its historical and contemporary legal and ethical issues. As a program, we take a holistic development approach with our students and support their growth across multiple dimensions, such as intellectual, social, cultural, emotional, moral, and spiritual. Finally, students in our program will learn how to use research and quality data to inform their future decision-making within higher education contexts.
Who should consider pursuing an M.Ed. in Higher Education?
Anyone interested in studying or working in higher education would benefit from this program. Not only does it give students a better understanding of higher education in the U.S., but this degree can also open doors for certain professional positions on ACU’s campus available to them. In addition, this degree also helps prepare students to move into a doctoral program after completion if they desire.
How do you foresee the future landscape of higher education changing?
There are some real challenges for higher education presently and in the future. Higher education is still recovering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced most higher education to go online for a while. The country is also approaching what many are referring to as the demographic or enrollment cliff, when the traditional college-aged population will start to shrink in the U.S. (purportedly by 2025). For those institutions that are heavily tuition-dependent, which is often tied to student enrollment, it will be incredibly challenging financially. Luckily, experts foresee growth in online higher education because of its accessibility to students’ current living situations. In the next few years, it will be interesting to see what this shift means for the traditional university campus. I think it will take creative approaches and innovative collaborations for many institutions to survive in this next decade.
Are there any new developments or projects for the program?
We always evaluate the curriculum and update courses to ensure they meet student’s needs and are relevant to higher education contexts. For example, we are planning to offer a course focused on Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion in Higher Education built by the associate vice president for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging, Dr. Jennifer Butcher. As higher education becomes increasingly more diverse, our faculty think it is essential for students (and practitioners) to understand the benefits and challenges associated with DEI and learn ways of fostering more inclusive and equitable learning environments that promote a sense of belonging by all its members. We are also exploring the possibility of adding two new initiatives to the program, like a study abroad option and graduate assistantships.
As the program director, what do you hope for your students?
As the program director, I hope our students find value in our curriculum, instruction, and overall experience in the program. I am very cognizant of the cost of graduate study, so I hope that students will graduate from the program with the knowledge to help them get that first job in higher education or continue to advance in their professional roles, justifying the money and time they have invested. I also hope students’ experiences are positive enough to recommend the program to their friends and colleagues. For me, I consider it a success when students report that they used what they learned in the program within their higher education workplace.
Want to be a part of a growing educational initiative? Join Dr. Cole and countless other faculty and staff at ACU Online. For more information about ACU Online, visit www.acu.edu/online.