Accolades for Excellence

Photo: Mike Peters

Honors and awards are no surprise to Montclair State University faculty, staff, and students since the University has long been highly regarded by many. But this year, Montclair State has been the recipient of a cascade of prominent honors and rankings that signify a new level of acknowledgment in the higher education community.

Over the past year, Montclair State University has been in the national spotlight on a number of occasions for its overall excellence, as well as for specific initiatives and programs. The University has been given top rankings by national publications such as Forbes, The Princeton Review, and U.S. News & World Report, and listed among the best institutions in the nation in areas ranging from minority graduation rates to environmental responsibility.

Here are some of the honors, national rankings, and accolades bestowed on Montclair State in the past year:

Top Public University and a Best Buy

America’s Best Colleges, Forbes' annual list of the best colleges and universities in the nation ranked Montclair State as the top public institution in New Jersey. Further, the University was ranked as the third best college or university in the state overall, with only two private universities ranking higher on the list.

The America’s Best Colleges list was not the only list on which Forbes placed Montclair State. Together with the Washington DC-based, not-for-profit organization, the Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP), Forbes also placed the University on its “Best Buy” list. Titled “Twenty-Five Best Buy Northeastern Colleges,” the list placed Montclair State at number 15 in the entire northeast, and second in New Jersey.

The national rankings from Forbes and CCAP did not go unnoticed, and a few months after the lists were published, President Susan A. Cole and a contingent of Montclair State students were on their way to Trenton to receive a Joint Legislative Resolution of congratulations from New Jersey lawmakers.

Saying it “stands as a beacon of the heights to which education can aspire,” the New Jersey State Senate and General Assembly officially congratulated Montclair State at a ceremony held at the State House. Governor Richard J. Codey presented the Joint Legislative Resolution of congratulations to President Cole and was joined by other legislators in honoring the University. The legislators recognized Montclair State for being, in the words of the resolution, “an exceptional example of the success possible through the selfless efforts of concerned and dedicated people.”

Big Improvements in Minority Graduation Rates

In January, the Education Trust, a Washington DC-based, non-profit advocacy group, named Montclair State a “Top Gainer” and listed it among the top 25 public four-year colleges and universities in the nation for its improvements in minority graduation rates. Among the Carnegie classification’s 186 public master’s institutions included in the study, Montclair State was the only New Jersey institution to be listed in the top 25.

The Education Trust’s report, “Top Gainers,” noted that between 2002 and 2007, the graduation rate for underrepresented minority (URM) students—those of African American, Hispanic, and Native American heritage—at Montclair State increased by a substantial 14 percent, nearly double the average increase of all public master’s institutions that made gains during that period. That increase made the University’s 2007 URM six-year graduation rate a highly respectable 54.9 percent, well above the 35.6 percent national average for public master’s institutions for that year.

The University was also ranked in the top 25 nationally in a companion report, “Top Gap Closers,” which listed those institutions that were most successful in closing the gap between the graduation rates of minority and non-minority students. Between 2002 and 2007, Montclair State narrowed that gap by 13.4 percent, a figure that places the University in the number five spot nationally on the list for public master’s institutions.

The Education Trust credited Montclair State’s success to its top leaders who recognized the importance of improving retention and graduation rates, and made making improvements in those areas a primary University objective. Stating that the strong network of support services and programs for students, as well as the efforts to improve student success both in and out of the classroom were central to the University’s success, the report gave Montclair State high marks in all areas.

Education Programs in the Top 20

Coming on the heels of being ranked among the ten leading schools of education in the nation by the George Lucas Foundation in 2008, Montclair State’s College of Education and Human Services is again in the news for having two of its graduate programs—secondary teacher education and elementary teacher education—ranked 14 and 17 respectively in the 2010 U.S. News & World Report rankings of America’s Best Graduate Schools. Once again, Montclair State was the only New Jersey institution to be on these lists.

“Montclair State’s programs are now receiving the national accolades that New Jersey educators have long bestowed on our programs, faculty, and students,” noted Ada Beth Cutler, dean of the College of Education and Human Services. “Our reputation as a premier College of Education has been longstanding and growing, and we are honored to achieve this national recognition.”

The honors keep rolling in for the College of Education and Human Services. In April, the Society of Professors of Education presented the College with the 2010 Wisniewski Award, which recognizes the one institution each year that has made “singularly significant contributions to the theory and practice of teacher education.” The University was also selected by the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Foundation as one of 27 host institutions where Woodrow Wilson-Rockefeller Brothers Aspiring Teachers of Color Fellows may pursue Master of Arts in Teaching degrees.

Presidential Community Service Award

National rankings are not the only recognition that Montclair State has enjoyed. It has also been recognized for its dedication to community service by being named to the 2009 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll—the highest federal recognition a college or university can receive—for its commitment to volunteering, service-learning, and civic engagement.

“The evidence shows that service learning has a very positive influence on students’ academic achievements, their development as engaged citizens, and on the community organizations and agencies that they serve,” stated President Cole. “In my judgment, the many Montclair State programs that enable students to bridge the academic environment with the world beyond the University play a very significant role in the educational process.”

The Corporation for National and Community Service, which administers the annual Honor Roll, chose the institutions to be recognized based on a number of selection factors such as the scope and innovation of the service projects, the percentage of students who participate, the incentives for service, and the extent to which the institutions offer academic service-learning courses.

During the 2008-2009 academic year, Montclair State had approximately 550 students enrolled in service-learning courses, all performing a minimum of 20 hours of community service related to their service-learning coursework. Additionally, apart from any academic requirements, around 480 students volunteered in community service projects. Altogether, Montclair State students engaged in over 19,170 hours of service to the community during the year.

Recognition for Being Green

Citing Montclair State’s commitment to green technologies and practices on campus—exemplified by the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Environmental Protection Agency, its recycling and conservation programs, and LEED-certified buildings—The Princeton Review has included Montclair State in its first release of The Princeton Review’s Guide to 286 Green Colleges.

Focused solely on “institutions of higher education who have demonstrated an above-average commitment to sustainability in terms of campus infrastructure, activities and initiatives,” the guide profiles the nation’s most environmentally responsible campuses. Montclair State was given high marks for recycling, procuring local and organic produce, offering New Jersey’s only doctoral program in Environmental Management, and for hosting the Passaic River Institute. Although it occurred too late to be included in The Princeton Review’s evaluation this time around, Montclair State also launched the PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies in April.

A joint project of The Princeton Review and the U.S. Green Building Council, The Princeton Review’s Guide to 286 Green Colleges is designed to help college applicants and their parents make decisions about which institution to attend. The Princeton Review’s research has shown that a large percentage of college applicants factor an institution’s commitment to the environment into their decision about where they will apply. Now that it is listed among the top institutions in this regard, students will have even more incentive to consider Montclair State.

Top University for Hispanics

Recognizing Montclair State for the number of bachelor’s degrees it awarded to Hispanic students, The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education magazine has placed the University on its “Top 100 Colleges for Hispanics” list. For New Jersey, Montclair State took the top ranking.

A Military Friendly School

Not least among the many accolades received this year, Montclair State has been named a “Military Friendly School” by G.I. Jobs magazine. This designation places the University in the top 15 percent of the 7,000 institutions of higher education around the nation that G.I. Jobs surveyed to compile the list. Lauded for providing staff who are dedicated full time to working with veterans, Montclair State was one of just a handful of New Jersey universities on the list.