Norwich University’s master’s degree program in history tops College Choice ranking

Norwich University’s College of Graduate and Continuing Studies not only teaches history, sometimes it makes history.

This week, the graduate school’s online history master’s degree program topped a 22-school ranking of similar programs by College Choice, an independent Raleigh, North Carolina-based college search website. 

Norwich, which offers Master of Arts degrees in military and nonmilitary history, led a top 10 that included, in order, the University of North Carolina, Wilmington; Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania; the University of Massachusetts, Boston; the University of Louisiana, Monroe; Western Kentucky University; the University of Memphis; Louisiana Tech University; Liberty University (in Lynchburg, Virginia); and Arizona State University, Tempe.

“People want to make sense of the present and maybe even peer into the cloudy future.” Dr. David J. Ulbrich, Norwich University history master’s program director

On its website, College Choice said it scores master’s programs on three criteria: 

  • Affordability (30% of the score): Based on graduate tuition and fees, the proportion of students receiving financial aid, the loan default rate and tuition changes over time.
  • Return on investment (40% of the score): Based on 10-year net present value — projected earnings 10 years postgraduation, minus college costs. College Choice used net present value from Georgetown University’s 2019 “A First Try at ROI” rankings. 
  • Commitment to graduate education (30% of the score): Based on the ratio of master’s programs to overall programs; the proportion of graduate students to overall students; and the ratio of master’s degree programs offered by distance education to the total master’s program count.

Norwich ranked well by several measures on Georgetown’s “A First Try at ROI” rankings, which were released in November and leveraged data from the College Scorecard, a national database started in 2015. The database calculated net present value at 10, 15, 20, 30 and 40 years after enrollment for schools public, private nonprofit and private for-profit offering two-year associate degrees and four-year bachelor’s degrees. Georgetown’s rankings, released in November, didn’t calculate net present value for master’s degree programs.

history 2 min
Kreitzberg Library in the morning mist. The library includes many resources for history students to tap, including the Archives and Special Collections, which include rare books and source materials relating to military history, Vermont history and the university’s history. (Photo courtesy Dr. David J. Ulbrich.)

College Choice’s methodology did not say how many colleges were assessed or how the sample was chosen. College Choice Managing Editor Jeremy Alder did not return an email seeking comment.

The National Center for Education Statistics reported that U.S. colleges and universities conferred 19,884 master’s degrees in social sciences and history in 2017-18, the latest year with available data, or 2.4 percent of all master’s degrees conferred for the period. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics pegged the median U.S. annual wage for historians at $59,120. Norwich’s history master’s program page listed archivist, archeologist, content producer, curator, digital historian, editor, educator, executive director, grantwriter, intelligence analyst, legislative staff, museum director, records manager and researcher as possible occupations for history master’s degree earners.

Parade of graduates

The master’s in military history is Norwich’s elder of the two graduate programs. It graduated its first class in 2007 and has since conferred more than 1,100 degrees.

Norwich’s newer history master’s degree program, started with concentrations in world and U.S. history, graduated its first student in 2014. In 2019, the program added concentrations in public history and constitutional history. Since 2014, the program has conferred 260 degrees with world or U.S. history concentrations.

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Visitors at Norwich University’s Sullivan Museum and History Center, from left, Circulation Manager Sarah LaForce and Head of Library Research and Instruction Claire Veach, check out the “Forged and Fired” exhibit of military weapons. (Photo by Mark Collier.)

In an online testimonial, 2015 history master’s earner Marcella White said her degree studies helped her hone skills she’s used in her job leading the social studies department at Pasco High School in southeastern Washington state. She teaches advanced world history and advanced placement U.S. history. 

“In some part, my motivation for pursuing my master’s degree was monetary … to see an income increase that comes with a master’s degree,” she said, adding that her studies particularly sharpened her reading and informational analysis and synthesis skills. “However, the choice to pursue a degree outside of the field of education — where most of my peers maintain their focus — is reflective of my own passion for the content I teach and my desire for mastery of my subject knowledge and opportunity to bring that mastery back to benefit my students.”

More recently, a survey following the June 2020 graduation asked students to reflect anonymously on their history program experiences. One graduate said, “The greatest strength was the professors’ different personalities and differences. Some challenged me in writing, others in creativity, while still another reinforced my legitimacy to remain in the program.” Another graduate said the greatest value was in “the academic rigor and focus on writing.”

The moment's momentum

Dr. David Ulbrich, who directs Norwich University’s history master’s program, said professors keep lessons instructive and engaging with threaded discussions and in-depth writing assignments. With the threaded discussion, instructors post questions at the beginning of each week and students respond with individual longform answers and shorter follow-up answers to follow-up queries from instructors and peers.

Meanwhile, he said, each 11-week term calls for three to four papers totaling 40 to 50 pages that tap students’ writing, research and logic skills.

Students complement class instruction with email, phone, or video chat discussions, Ulbrich said. During Residency Conference, students meet in person and present capstone projects. This year’s weeklong Residency Conference was virtual to adjust for the coronavirus pandemic.

Ulbrich, an award-winning scholar and teacher, has directed Norwich’s history master’s program since 2017; he served as a Norwich adjunct instructor, course developer and capstone adviser from 2007 to 2017. He said today’s intense current events — marked by the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter protests and the politically polarized U.S. presidential race — may encourage more people to study history.

“People want to make sense of the present and maybe even peer into the cloudy future.” Ulbrich, who earned his doctorate in history in 2007 from Temple University, said in an email Wednesday. “History provides students with the intellectual tools and practical skills to contextualize the past as the prologue to the present. Long- and short-term causes exist for historical events and controversies.

“The Master of Arts programs in history and military history have helped students learn the habits of mind to look past the shallow tweets and memes to gain a deeper understanding of the present,” he added.

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