IU journalism school's enrollment spike bucks slump

March 16, 2009
At a time when the field of journalism is shedding thousands of jobs, Indiana University's journalism department is seeing record growth. The growth is so strong, IU officials said the journalism school will have to abandon its home of the last 65 years for a facility twice its size.

What appears to be an anomaly is the result of the school's repositioning, which started more than three years ago, IU officials said.

"We have made strategic shifts in our curriculum to meet the demands of students and ready them for a changing work field," said IU Journalism Dean Brad Hamm, who joined the university in 2005.

Enrollment in the undergraduate journalism school in Bloomington has grown from 612 students in 2006 to 873 this year, and Hamm expects continued growth. Only the School of Public and Environmental Affairs has rivaled that kind of growth at IU. The phenomenon is not limited to IU's Bloomington campus. Journalism school enrollment at the school's Indianapolis campus has grown from 96 students to 177 in the same time period, more than any other school on the IUPUI campus.

"Those are pretty phenomenal numbers, even for a strong journalism program like Indiana," said Abe Peck, a longtime research professor and director of business-to-business journalism at Northwestern University.

The growth is even more phenomenal considering that more than 6,000 traditional journalism jobs have been eliminated since 2000, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics.

While growth has slowed in recent years, journalism enrollment at universities nationwide is still up slightly, about 2 percent annually since 2006, according to figures compiled by the University of Georgia. Ball State University, also known for its strong journalism program, has seen static enrollment the last four years in its program, at about 750 undergraduates, and a slight decline since 2002.

Ball State has pegged its future on becoming a leader in emerging digital media. To address the changing industry, Ball State is creating an incubator for emerging media business projects in 3,000 square feet on the ground floor of the university's new Letterman media building.

Ball State's $17.7 million Emerging Media Initiative was unveiled by President Jo Ann Gora in December close on the heels of an announcement that Ball State also is launching a distinguished speaker and workshop series named in honor of its most prominent alumnus, CBS "Late Show" host David Letterman. The series will provide students regular, direct engagement with communications and emerging media leaders of national stature. Among those on tap for the program are legendary newsman Ted Koppel and "The Art of Innovation" author Tom Kelley.

Many Ball State students interested in emerging media, and the convergence of media, enter the telecommunications school, not the journalism school.

IU has spent much time in the last decade positioning for the future, school officials said.

"IU is well-situated with its emphasis on public relations, advertising, magazine writing and new media," said Jim Brown, executive associate dean of journalism at the school's Indianapolis campus.

Student surveys show that only one in 10 students currently enrolled in IU's journalism school have an interest in print journalism, said Bonnie Brownlee, IU associate journalism dean for undergraduate studies.

"If you had a program just focused on news, it would be dying," Brownlee said.

Studying more than news

Hamm has put together a program for students interested in various forms of communication. Hamm has hired public relations, marketing and advertising experts to serve as teachers and rebuild the curriculum, as well as local lawyers and other adjunct professors to meet the students' changing needs.

"What we've found is the skills we're teaching in this school are sought by a variety of students interested in different career fields," Brownlee said. "For instance, a lot of people interested in going to law school study journalism."

Hamm and his staff also began offering journalism students other opportunities, including short-term study abroad programs; enhanced new media courses; course work emphasizing the Spanish language; international journalism courses; and a monthly lecture series featuring such speakers as Bob Woodward, of Watergate fame, and former New York Times columnist William Saffire.

Hamm has far from given up on teaching traditional journalism courses. In the last three months, he has hired Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Tom French, former Baltimore Sun and Indianapolis Star Editor Tim Franklin, and former Associated Press Tokyo bureau chief Joe Coleman.

"If you look, The New York Times (through the Internet and other new media) reaches more readers now than it ever has in its history," Hamm said. "Far more than it did 15 years ago."

Plans call for Franklin to help launch a sports journalism center headquartered in Indianapolis.

"Specialty and new media publications in sports are exploding," Franklin said. "No other city matches the number of high school, collegiate, professional and Olympic sports activities as Indianapolis, so this is the perfect setting. The goal for this is to be a national resource and research center."

The increased offerings have attracted more out-of-state students to the program, Brownlee said, with 60 percent coming from outside Indiana.

Optimism vs. job market fears

Still, IU journalism department leaders admit industry changes are cause for concern.

"We're concerned that what we're teaching our students is what they'll need to compete in this changing market," Brownlee said

Hamm points to IU's journalism department job placement figures, which he said have risen about 5 percentage points in the last five years, to 70 percent. Those numbers count students who are employed shortly after graduation.

"The diversity of journalism jobs is exploding," Hamm said. "It's an exciting time as people figure out revenue models for new media. I believe there will be a lot of entrepreneurial endeavors in journalism, and the demand for our students will remain strong."

There are indications job placement will be tougher this year as the recession continues. A recent study by the Pennsylvania-based National Association of Colleges and Employers found that companies across industries plan to hire 22 percent fewer grads from the class of 2009 than they hired from the class of 2008.

Undaunted, Hamm said growth at the journalism school in Bloomington is so robust it will have to move from Ernie Pyle Hall, which has housed the department since 1944. While Hamm admits the building is in a plum position at the center of campus adjacent to the Student Union building, he said there is simply no room for growth. Making matters worse, the requirement for journalism majors increased in 2007 from 31 hours of course-specific work needed for a major to 39 hours.

With the building tightly bordered on all sides and structurally incapable of being expanded upward, Hamm said there is no choice but to move. Already, school officials — in their recently unveiled university-wide master plan — have targeted Ernie Pyle Hall to become a campus welcome center, with a coffee shop, bookstore and other attractions.

Already this year, the journalism school in Bloomington has expanded to a 2,000-square-foot house across the street from Ernie Pyle Hall, which has 37,000 square feet. But Hamm said that's simply a Band-Aid. IU officials are scheduled to meet later this month to discuss a funding plan and potential moving dates for the journalism school.

"We need a minimal of twice the space we have now," Hamm said. "We need more classroom and lab space and offices. We have a great affinity for Ernie Pyle Hall, but the program would suffer greatly if we stayed there for the next 10 years."

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