Broadcast Education Curricula in 2-Year and 4-Year Colleges

By Kock, Erin; Kang, Jong G. et al. | Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, Spring 1999 | Go to article overview

Broadcast Education Curricula in 2-Year and 4-Year Colleges


Kock, Erin, Kang, Jong G., Allen, David S., Journalism & Mass Communication Educator


The development of educational programs in broadcasting has been a slow process. Undergraduate broadcasting degree programs began appearing at Big Ten universities and other institutions in the 1930s (Sterling,1994, p. 8). According to a United States Office of Education survey, approximately 300 universities and colleges reported offering at least one course, which existed primarily in speech and English departments, in radio by 1938 (Head and Martin, 1956). By the late 1940s, when television became an important broadcasting medium, colleges and universities responded by adding television courses to the broadcasting curricula (Niven, 1961).

The number of students involved in broadcasting programs has been steadily increasing since that time. "Whereas the number of undergraduate programs in broadcast education in 1956 numbered 86 . . . three decades later . . . numbers had increased to 265" (Sterling, pp. 8-9). Likewise, although there were only 3,149 undergraduates in broadcasting programs in 1956, that number had increased to 34,600 by 1985, and 42,055 by 1996 (Sterling, 1994; Kosicki and Becker, 1996). This growth can in part be attributed to the recognition of broadcasting as a legitimate subject of study in the college curriculum (Head and Martin, 1956).

Yet while the study of broadcasting has been legitimated, the question remains how well educators have adjusted to this increased demand. This study seeks to compare broadcasting programs across colleges and universities in the United States and, based on those findings, puts forward recommendations on what a model broadcast curriculum might look like.

Literature review

Niven's (1961) study of broadcasting programs at 41 colleges and universities asked educators to explain their curriculum or teaching philosophy. The educators' responses were grouped into three broad classifications: liberal, practical and liberal-professional. The "liberal" philosophy was defined as primarily a "liberal arts education with an introduction to the field of broadcasting" (Niven, p. 248). Five of the 41 surveyed schools claimed to structure their curricula according to this philosophy. Four schools in Niven's survey subscribed to the "practical" philosophy which is oriented toward primarily providing job-entry skills, along with a basic understanding of the industry (Niven, 1961). The large remainder of the schools claimed to be working under a "liberal-professional" philosophy which includes a liberal arts background as well as professional job training skills, and knowledge of the broadcasting industry.

Christ (1990) stated that he was aware of at least four "different kinds of department/university combinations" (p. 8): (a) "the professional program within the trade school environment" whose primary mission is entrylevel training, (b) the "professional program within the `liberal arts' environment," (c) the "liberal arts department within the professional or trade school environment" and (d) the "liberal arts department housed within a liberal arts and sciences university" (pp. 8-9).

Pennybacker (1965) claims that the common cause of media practitioners' complaints that broadcasting students lack strong technical skills is the "basic conflict between the philosophy of a liberal arts education and that of training for a specific skill" (Pennybacker, p. 17). However, Pennybacker recognizes the need for balance between the practical and theoretical and challenges colleges to balance liberal studies with the technical training which will be immediately useful to students (Pennybacker, 1965).

Further, the Roper Organization reported that colleges and universities do not offer enough hands-on experiences and fail to provide a true picture of the industry (Roper, 1987). Oliver et. al. (1988) also argued that a broadcast curriculum should focus more on practical skills as opposed to theoretical knowledge.

Liberal arts education and technical training. …

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