I spent Friday at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Robert “Pritch” Pritchard, a 27 year veteran of the US Navy and now star instructor in public relations, organized a roundtable for the members of the Indiana Chapter of the PR Society of America to discuss the findings from our seventh Edelman Trust Barometer. During the day I met other educators, including Professor Marilyn Weaver of Ball State and Professor Bonita Dostal Neff of Valparaiso University.
Here are some of my observations after a day on campus:
1) Vocational training versus broad education in liberal arts-The First two years of study for a PR major are in classic liberal arts, the final two years are focused on preparing for a career. Professor Weaver said that two thirds of total course hours are outside of PR courses, with 60% in liberal arts. At Valparaiso, 8% of the course hours must be in foreign language.
2) Career Choices-Of the 786 students in the communications program at Ball State, approximately 1/3 each are in journalism, advertising and public relations. Graduates in advertising and journalism tend to take graphics and production jobs, with the number of ‘classic journalists’ down from prior years. Journalism graduates complain about long hours and inadequate pay, while advertising and PR graduates generally are satisfied with their careers.
3) Exposure to Journalism-One fourth of total classes for a PR major are in journalism but very few of the PR students, instead the PR majors at Ball State run a small PR firm, Cardinal Communications, doing for-profit work for local businesses. One internship at a PR firm or a business is required for graduation.
4) Gender and Race-Two-thirds of the students in communications are women. Ten percent of the students at Ball State and Valparaiso are minorities (this reflects the population mix in the State of Indiana). Fifteen percent of the students at Valparaiso are from outside of the United States.
5) Technology-Ball State students have easy access to PCs, though few have laptops. Course work includes a heavy emphasis on production skills using classic programs such as PhotoShop.
6) A Print Culture, Not Broadcast or Web-Neither the instructors nor the students appeared to be as informed about developments in broadcast or on the Internet as I had hoped. For example, none of the students I met were blogging nor did they refer to specific blogs in our conversations.
On the whole, I came away from my one day on campus impressed that the students are being prepared for productive careers in PR. Based on my, albeit limited, exposure I have a few suggestions for those designing the curriculum.
First, in PR we need to be subject experts, so there needs to be rigorous instruction in economics, science and foreign language. I wasn’t convinced that the curriculum is broad enough. The PR challenges of the 21st century are going to involve issues such as genetic modification, cross-border mergers and pension reform.
Second, students need to blog and join conversations, not just to write for the newspaper and to create PR campaigns for local businesses. Faculty can lead the way by starting their own blogs or creating a wiki for their students to discuss their projects and learnings.
Third, we must make an active effort to attract minority students to the communications field, then to assist them in finding employment. Professor Weaver noted that minority students often lack the connections, through family or friends, to find the best internship and appropriate first job. Without their unique world view, all of us lose. I’m asking our firm in the U.S. to ensure that at least 1/3 our interns, for this summer come from minority backgrounds.
Fourth, the PR curriculum must be intertwined with other disciplines, particularly business. Every business or MBA graduate should have some knowledge of our profession and understanding of its central role in product marketing, corporate reputation and issues management.
I welcome your views on ways to improve PR education.