Academic journal article The Journalism Educator

Seeking a Theoretical Framework for Master's Program in the 1990s

Academic journal article The Journalism Educator

Seeking a Theoretical Framework for Master's Program in the 1990s

Article excerpt

Hundreds of studies have been devoted to undergraduate education in journalism and mass communication but scant attention has been paid to the master's programs (Ryan, 1980). The few scholarly articles on graduate education have focused on case studies of master's programs, enrollment surveys, and discussion of enrollment criteria and of the summative experiences required of master's students.

More than a decade has passed since research was published on the curricula and structures of master's programs in journalism and mass communications as a whole. Yet the number of such programs has nearly doubled--from 77 to 135--since Ryan's 1980 study.

Ryan explored admissions criteria and program structures and the problems confronting program faculties and administrators. He noted that while graduate students, at least numerically, are an important part of journalism education, some graduate program directors said their master's programs were nothing more than "stepchildren" to undergraduate programs. That attitude was echoed in the 1984 Oregon Report that said graduate education ranked second to undergraduates in priority among journalism school officials.

Those attitudes may change as more adults return to school seeking a master's degree (Glazer, 1986). The numbers of master's students in journalism programs has increased in recent years, even as enrollments of undergraduates and doctoral students declined (Becker and Kosicki, 1993, p. 55).

With this growth comes expectations for the master's programs, greater scrutiny and concerns about quality, causing one writer to predict that the reputation and even survival of colleges and universities may depend on their master's programs (Glazer, 1986).

This present study is an attempt to update the description of master's programs in journalism and mass communication since Ryan's 1980 survey. This study also attempts to compare and contrast the curricula and structure of these programs and to determine how they may fit into three curriculum paradigms borrowed from educational theorists.

This information is intended to provide a snapshot of journalism and mass communication master's programs so that educators can compare programs with an eye toward improving their own. The researchers also hope to stimulate debate on the intellectual direction of these programs as a whole and whether there should be a consensus on what they teach.

The master's degree in journalism and mass communication seems faced with the same concerns as master's degrees overall, particularly the dilemma between theory and practice. Is the degree just a collection of courses equaling one year beyond the baccalaureate, or is it an attempt to educate and train students for a leadership role in the media (Glazer, 1986)?

Researchers, however, have focused not on journalism and mass communications master's programs as a whole, but rather on the individual threads--admissions criteria, summative experiences, etc.--woven into them.

More than 20 years ago, for instance, Stempel (1972) addressed the concern for measuring quality of prospective students. He found school officials have limited confidence in most admissions criteria and explored the feasibility of developing an entrance exam for prospective journalism master's students. While he concluded there is interest in and perhaps a need for a specialized entrance test, such an undertaking would be too ambitious for one school and would provide only a limited market for a professional testing company. Scotton (1977) also looked at admissions criteria and urged journalism graduate schools to reevaluate how they judge prospective students, particularly for professional master's programs, in light of an average dropout rate of 20 percent.

Other writers, such as Sorensen (19731, have looked at curriculum flexibility. Sorensen said students would benefit from an interdisciplinary approach so long as "the emphasis is personal and flexible without compromising on course demands" (p. …

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