How do students become well-rounded in media skills while abiding by accreditation restrictions?

by Alexa Lopez
English Education graduate student, University of Florida

Before this year, the curriculum at the University of Miami’s School of Communication had been set in a way that restricted the content and number of courses that students, including myself, could take as they pursued their degrees.

For instance, according to the school’s bulletin for 2010-2011, which I fell under, I could only take up to 42 credits in the school as part of the journalism program; the remaining 78 credits for my degree had to come from non-communication courses taken for a required second major plus electives.

Also, if you took more than the capped amount of credits allotted for your program in the School of Communication, you had to take that same number of credits outside of the School of Communication. That is, if I wanted to take an extra three-credit course in the School of Communication (resulting in a total of 45 communication credits), I had to balance it with another three-credit course in an outside school.

These binding limitations on our education were a result of the UM’s School of Communication’s membership in the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (ACEJMC), which sets certain standards for communication programs across the country.

I primarily encountered this problem because I switched majors within the school three times, from public relations to advertising to journalism. Once I got to the point where I wanted to take any journalism course, I had only 15 credits, or 5 classes, left before I hit the limit. Therefore, I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in journalism with just five journalism courses, with only two of those being writing classes.

Luckily, I had substantial internship and school newspaper experience, in addition to a second major in English literature, so I spent my four years in college consistently practicing my writing with support from experienced journalists and professors. However, not every student has the same opportunities I had, and many often graduate unprepared for the workforce.

Not to mention, it would have been extremely beneficial for me to take additional classes in communication, especially in different styles of writing, multimedia journalism and business. While some media organizations are seeking niche experts in certain fields, most are looking for well-rounded jacks of all trades in hope of reducing costs.

As a response to students’ challenges after graduation and the evolving world of communication, UM’s School of Communication faculty recently decided to leave ACEJMC. The University of Miami, however, remains accredited under the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), and the school still has certain requirements to meet.

However, no longer do communication students have to seek a second major. Instead, communication students are required to have a minor within or outside of the school, in addition to their 36-to-45-credit communication major.

This decision was one of the first efforts by the school’s new dean, Gregory Shepherd, “who was particularly concerned that students were not allowed to take more courses in the School of Business Administration. He argued that students should receive a multi-layered education,” according to the January 2012 issue of Communique, a publication by the School of Communication.

“A 21st century education in communication arguably demands that students become educated in a wide range of platforms, learning not only how to write, shoot, edit, speak, etc., but also how to engineer web sites, manage in communication organizations, publicize and pitch their work, create games and advertise them,” Shepherd told the Communique.

Professor Bob Radziewicz, the school’s director of print and online journalism and the adviser of the student newspaper, The Miami Hurricane, was a proponent of this change too.

The change comes after university and school officials were unable to persuade ACEJMC to loosen the strict limitations on communication credits, Radziewicz said.

Radziewicz said that the faculty’s decision received no opposition from the university administration. Rather, he said, they are encouraging the revising of curriculum so students can have more control of their education.

“Journalism is changing so rapidly and diversifying so much,” Radziewicz said. “How can we tell a broadcast major they can’t take a film, PR or advertising class?”

It is also important to note that, in the communication industry, a student’s GPA does not have much influence on an employer.

“It’s your clips that matter,” Radziewicz said. “Your school’s accreditation is even more remote.”

Alexa Lopez is a student in Mass Communication Teaching (MMC 6930).

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2 thoughts on “How do students become well-rounded in media skills while abiding by accreditation restrictions?

  1. Seems like a bold move by Miami to leave the ACEJMC, but it is one that makes sense. The course restrictions that ACEJMC mandate do not make much sense to me. Wouldn’t they want more students to take journalism courses? I’ll be curious to see the administration’s opinion of their move when they re-evaluate in a few years.

  2. I agree with Kevin… seems odd that you would not be ALLOWED to take more communication courses. I understand that they want well-rounded people, but the number seems fairly low. I took 51 credits of communication courses and could have and arguably should have taken more.

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