The View from the Ivory Tower: Evaluating Doctoral Programs in Communication

Article excerpt

The present study assesses perceptions of (1) the quality of American graduate programs in communication, (2) the qualities that communication scholars deem important in a communication PhD program, and (3) the adequacy of the number of PhD programs with specific specialties and applications in communication.

A national survey of communication faculty and chairs was conducted via the World Wide Web. Study results suggest that top evaluative criteria for doctoral programs included the quality of the university library, up-to-date computer facilities, student attendance at academic conferences, the national research reputation of the communication faculty, and faculty encouragement of students to explore diverse perspectives on communication research. The only specialty for which a majority of respondents reported there are "not enough" is Media Information Technologies. Program quality rankings confirm past work suggesting that Midwestern programs--particularly those with applied origins in agricultural journalism--continue to rank highly in the field.

Keywords: Communication Discipline; Doctoral Programs; Reputational Rankings

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The study of institutional quality represents an active area of inquiry in the communication field (e.g., Burroughs, Christophel, Ady, & McGreal, 1989; Doctoral Education Committee, 2004; Hickson, Turner, & Bodon, 2003). The present study assesses perceptions of (1) the quality of American graduate programs in communication, (2) the qualities that communication scholars deem important in a communication PhD program, and (3) the adequacy of the number of PhD programs stressing specific specialties and applications in communication.

Literature Review

Defining the Field

Despite the fact that communication is one of the fastest growing fields in the U.S., ranking among the eight largest nationally in BA graduate production each year, information on enrollment trends remains sketchy (Craig & Carlone, 1998). This ambiguity may stem from the discipline's relative youth (Rogers, 1994), as it was not even recognized as a field of study by the Department of Education until 1966. The three decades to follow witnessed a 534% growth rate in the number of communication degrees awarded, during which time the journalism/mass communication subfield grew 1,500% (Becker & Graf, 1995; Becker, Vlad, Huh, & Prine, 2001). Even so, scholars (e.g., Atkin & Jeffres, 1998; Nelson, 1995) argued that communication programs were vulnerable to budget cuts through the 1990s. The academy's hesitancy to recognize communication as a discipline (Book, 1993) may stem from program identification challenges; that is, few academic units in communication use the same name (e.g., journalism vs. [mass] communication; communication vs. speech) (see Communiquest Interactive, 2004).

As these and other commentators suggest, communication scholars need to document their centrality to the academy in terms of pedagogy and academic quality. This is especially true during times of budgetary shortfall (Book, 1993), but as Craig and Carlone (1998, p. 67) note, "this turns out to be difficult because we find that rapid intellectual, institutional, and societal changes have rendered old familiar explanations obsolete and we no longer understand the field well ourselves." [1] The authors (1998, p. 68) outline how speech, journalism and other subfields have converged towards "communication," having been massively transformed as the field has grown to its present "amorphous contours," including the following sub-areas: communications, general; advertising; journalism; broadcast journalism, public relations and organizational communication; radio and television broadcasting; radio/television, general; communication media; and communications, other. These categories have been joined by "Speech/Rhetorical Studies" and, in some contexts, "Communication Disorders Sciences and Services" as well as "Drama" and "Film. …