Tracking Myths About Journalism Education p. 18

By: Debra Gersh Hernandez REPORTS OF THE surge in journalism students due to Watergate have been greatly exaggerated.
In fact, a new report from the Freedom Forum shows no evidence that Watergate had any effect on enrollments.
"The only unusually large jump in communication enrollments is between 1970 and 1971. This jump is best explained by the modification in the classification scheme for fields of study between those years," according to "Myths & Trends: What the real numbers say about journalism education," by Lee B. Becker, a professor and interim director of the School of Journalism at Ohio State University, and Joseph D. Graf, a former reporter and now a doctoral student in the Department of Communication at Stanford University.
The report used empirical data to track a number of myths about journalism education to get to the real story.
Despite the fact that Watergate had no significant impact on journalism enrollments, Becker and Graf, nevertheless, found that the number of students enrolled in communications studies has grown significantly over the past 26 years.
"No other field of study has shown such consistent and dramatic change in enrollments over this period," they reported.
Most of the growth in communications enrollment has been in the number of women taking up such studies.
The study reported that "without the increases in the number of women obtaining bachelor's degrees, there would have been an actual decline from 1973 to 1991 in the total number of degrees granted by American four-year institutions."
While women accounted for 64.3% of the total growth in communications enrollments, Becker and Graf noted that the participation of minority students was different "in one important sense" ? the percentage of women in the population has remained at about 51%, while the percentage of minorities has grown from 12% in 1966 to just under 25% in 1991.
Looking at various disciplines, the data showed that, "Communications is one of the fields with overall growth but average or below-average growth in terms of minority students."
Further, the study found that communications was a field of study in which the number of degrees granted increases as overall societal unemployment goes up.
Another myth shattered by the report is that students study communications because they are math deficient.
Becker and Graf did find that while students planning to study communications in general did better than other students on the verbal skills part of their Scholastic Assessment Tests (SATs), their math scores were lower.
However, when communications students are broken out into the subgroup of journalism students, their math scores are at the national average and their verbal skills are higher than those for both the national average and for general communications students.
A considerable majority, just over 90%, of journalism and mass communications degrees awarded over the past few years have been bachelor's degrees.
When looking at graduate students, however, the study found no rocket scientists ? literally.
Looking at Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores, Becker and Graf discovered that those planning to study communication research "score above average on the verbal part of the test and well below average on the quantitative part of the test . . . . They are about average on the third component of the test, which measures analytical ability."
While the highest GRE scores were found among students studying planetary science, journalism and mass communication graduate students were "not at the bottom of the heap. Scores for students in fields such as social work, home economics, marketing and criminal justice are, on average, considerably worse."
Becker and Graf believe their study shows that the dramatic growth in journalism and mass communications studies is unlikely to continue.
Both actual enrollments and the number of students indicating on their SATs they would be studying communications have dropped off in the past few years, according to the report.
However, they also found that "Students are returning to the core of journalism education ? print and broadcast journalism coursework ? at the expense of advertising and, to a lesser extent, public relations."
Students certainly are not drawn to the field for the promise of getting rich after graduation.
Becker and Graf found that "journalism graduates and those in some of the other communications fields of study do better than average in terms of finding work and are average in terms of finding work in the field for which they studied.
"They don't get paid very well once they find work. Their salaries are considerably below average," the report stated.
While pointing out that it is "easier to understand the trends of the past than to predict those of the future," Becker and Graf reported that their "best estimate . . . is that the current trends will hold."
"This is not necessarily what some people may want to hear," they added. "The Watergate myth, after all, is a very pleasing one.
"The data suggest, however, it would be better to increase salaries for new reporters than bring down another president, if the goal is to increase student interest in the field," the report concluded.
"Which is easier to do is another question."


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