Enrollment at Journalism Schools in Decline Nationwide, Two Years Running

The number of students attending journalism schools nationwide and the amount enrolled within many individual programs has slightly declined for two straight years, flying in the face of roughly two decades of steady growth.

According to the results of the leading related annual study — a survey of nearly 500 journalism and mass communication programs overseen by University of Georgia researchers — PR and advertising majors are doing fine. But fewer students are centering their academic work on just journalism — you know, the pure, newsy, All-the-President’s-Men-inspired kind. (American Journalism Review calls it “classical journalism, which involves holding governments accountable, exposing inequities and reporting on world affairs.”)

One year’s decline is a hiccup, a rough patch, possibly even a full-on aberration. Two years — while not yet labeled as anything close to a full-blown trend — appears to be a cause for some genuine concern.

Cue head-scratching, industry-blaming and increases in prospective students’ financial aid packages.

As a wonderful AJR write-up by Michael King chewing on these declining j-program numbers confirms, many educators think the constant cutbacks in the professional ranks have finally (finally?!) caught up with students’ idealism about the craft. Or maybe all the news media negativity is having a greater impact on parents, spurring them to say no to kids seeking to pursue the newsy career path.

Lee Becker, the UGA professor extraordinare who spearheads the enrollment study: “It’s a reasonable question to ask as to whether it’s a good time to be going into something in journalism. I do think the dramatic change in the media landscape is a part of it. If you’re a parent, if you’re a young person looking at the future … you’re going to be wondering about the security of the enterprise, and the decline of the mainstream media certainly is something that you would expect the student and the parent to be aware of.”


Hmm. OK, fair enough. But as I have previously posted the journalism universe has been gloomy and Newspaper-Death-Watch-ified for a long while now. Are prospective students and their supporters really just wising up to that fact en masse? Or for some reason did they decide the most recent round of layoffs at their local daily was the last straw?

And in many respects hope — tiny particles of hope — have seeped into the professional bloodstream as of late via the growth or sudden emergence of certain new media entities (some more news-oriented than others).

But Columbia College Chicago journalism department chair Nancy Day makes a good point: Many people outside the industry or academia (or heck, even inside of them) may not know yet about all the opportunities journalism 3.0 presents students.

Day’s take: “A lot of the newer jobs, people don’t know [about them.] They’re not the mainstays like NBC or even CNN.”

Meanwhile, other educators quoted by King are more nonplussed, at least on the surface, about the enrollment drop, suggesting the whole shebang may not be a downsizing as much as an autocorrect. After all, J&MC programs have been rising ridiculously without fail since the mid-’90s, so it might be nice to take stock, consolidate resources and see what’s what moving forward. (And it is noted that some programs still are on the rise.)

Bottom line, one omission I found especially telling in the AJR analysis: None of the cited educators or administrators mention the relative quality or level of innovation within their own programs or journalism education overall as possible culprits for the enrollment downturn. The professional press — and even the economy in general — get the blame a few times, but not “classical journalism” curricula or the infrastructure surrounding them.


What do you think about all this enrollment decline talk and data?


3 Reasons Texas A&M University is Right to (Re)Start Its Journalism Major

The What: Journalism School Enrollment Is Up. Now Let’s Get to the Why [From 2009]

One Response to “Enrollment at Journalism Schools in Decline Nationwide, Two Years Running”
  1. My stab at a theory on the enrollment decline: Faculty and administrators at many j-schools don’t like to admit this, but there are many students who historically took on a journalism major for a vague ‘I like to write’ reason with no clear idea or direction of what they would do with it. Their choice of the major was really a desire to have a major — ANY major — that would get them through university and into the middle-class workforce. Once they graduated, those students took their BAs and went to work anywhere that would hire them — financial services, retail, you name it. They didn’t realize what’s always been the case in good times and bad: Success in journalism requires passion, ambition and a desire to actively manage one’s career path upward. So now those less-than-directed kids scan the jobs horizon, see that journalism is struggling for a viable new model, and decide to pick another major. If that’s the case, then I’d say that journalism enrollments have been historically inflated, and that what’s happening now is a coming-back-to-earth trend. The students who have the fire in the belly for journalism are still pursuing it.