October Research Team: Elizabeth L. Toth, Ph.D. University of Maryland. Hongmei Shen, Ph.D. San Diego State University

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1 The State of Public Relations/Communication Management Master s Degree Education in the United States: Three Studies* Commission on Public Relations Education October 2011 Research Team: Elizabeth L. Toth, Ph.D. University of Maryland Hongmei Shen, Ph.D. San Diego State University Rowena Briones, University of Maryland Commission Research Committee Members Frank Ovaitt Dean Kruckeberg Maria Russell Judy VanSlyke Turk Lou Capozzi * The C ommission on Public Relations E ducation wishes to gratefully acknowledge financial support for this study from the Public Relations Society of American F oundation. 1

2 Executive Summary The Commission on Public Relations Education (CPRE) is composed of public relations educators and practitioners who represent several professional societies in public relations and related fields of communications. For several decades, the Commission has periodically presented recommendations on undergraduate and graduate public relations curricula and associated subjects. Its curriculum recommendations have been adopted by colleges and universities throughout the United States; in recent years, these standards have also become points of reference for the development of public relations education in many parts of the world. The Commission's undergraduate curriculum has served as the basis for the PRSA undergraduate certification program (CEPR) and for the formation of chapters of the Public Relations Student Society of America throughout the United States and abroad. The commission's last report, The Professional Bond was published in It revisits and updates the Port of Entry (and earlier Commission reports) and, reflecting the changes in society and public relations since 1999, adds or expands sections on subjects such as ethics, diversity and the global implications of public relations education and practice. While graduate education has not been ignored in previous CPRE reports, it has gotten a rather cursory review. In fact, no comprehensive standards have been attempted in at least two decades. Yet, the PRSA Educational Affairs Committee is already offering graduate program certification. The Commission is also aware of the burgeoning growth in graduate programs in public relations. This growth can be measured not only in the numbers of students and programs, but also in the types of programs and range of sponsors: on campus and online, academically and professionally oriented, offered by established traditional academic institutions and by commercial enterprises. Some programs are purely theoretical, some totally applied to the point of having no required theory or research methods courses. Some are considered a fifth year of undergraduate education. Thus, the Commission believes it to be in the long-term interests of the public relations profession that it offers standards for graduate education in public relations that reflect its body of knowledge and practice expectations. Research Phase Approach to the Producing the Report of Standards The Commission has completed a year-long program of research to learn about the kinds, delivery, and value of United States graduate public relations education. Objectives 2

3 1. To obtain the perceptions of public relations employers/human resources directors of how they value graduate public relations/communication management education when seeking to hire. 2. To obtain the perceptions of executive-level public relations practitioners and academics of what should be the deliverables (knowledge, skills, abilities, instruction, job placement) of a Master s degree in public relations/communication management. 3. To learn what (if any) graduate educational standards, certifications, accreditations, across universities are expected by executive-level public relations professionals and academics. 4. To obtain the perceptions of executive-level public relations practitioners and academics of whether graduate programs in public relations/communication management are preparing students to help lead the public relations/communication management field. 5. To learn whether and in what ways universities deliver systems (traditional, interdisciplinary, commercial on-line, hybrid) are valued by executive-level public relations practitioners and academics. 6. To provide a compendium of schools offering graduate programs in public relations/communication management, including curriculum, entrance requirements, target audiences, and whether accredited. To achieve these objectives, the Commission collected a bibliography of secondary sources of information such as articles, research reports, websites, advertisements, and published commentary. It conducted an audit of the descriptions of graduate public relations programs found on university websites. It conducted a quantitative survey of public relations practitioners and academics to allow for greater representation and general perceptions of graduate public relations/communication management programs. Finally, the Commission collected perceptions of public relations industry employers through the use of in-depth interviews. The results of the audit, quantitative survey, and qualitative in-depth interviews are report in detail following this summary. The Audit of Graduate Programs Summary of First Stage Results of Research An increase from 2000 to 2011 in the number of graduate public relations programs from 26 to 75 Wide variety of graduate program titles Lack of uniformity in admissions standards Lack of uniformity in total required credit hours Inconsistency in reference to a capstone program experience Lack of uniformity in curriculum across programs 3

4 Quantitative Survey of 400+ Public Relations Practitioners and Educators Knowledge categories grouped as strategic management, business, theoretical Foundations, and globalization Most highly rated knowledge category was ethics Highest rated skill is mastery of language in oral or written form A comprehensive project completion rated highest as the culminating experience Split opinion on whether a master s degree is important in hiring Higher ratings for a master s program completion making a student eligible for research positions, and equivalent to three years of professional experience A variety of graduate program titles Qualitative In-Depth Interviews with 21 Public Relations Industry Employers Employers emphasize characteristics of applicants when hiring, rather than knowledge or skills. Employers perceive public relations graduate education as preparation for entry-level jobs, but still expect professional experience. Employers recommend building a better brand for graduate public relations education. Employers interpret the split in the value of public relations graduate education in hiring in three ways: as a reflection on the difference in quality of graduate programs, likely higher ratings by educators than academics, and perhaps a generational change. Next Stage: 2012: Development of a Report and Standards The Commission s next year will be spent developing a report of the status of graduate public relations education and recommended standards for graduate public relations education to be presented at the 2012 PRSA national conference in San Francisco. To achieve this report, the Commission has expanded its membership in order to have representatives of the academic and professional organizations that seek to advance public relations education. The Commission has invited at-large members as well who have expertise in graduate public relations education. 4

5 Table of Contents Curriculum Audit of Graduate Programs p. 4 Report of a Survey of Public Relations Practitioner and Educator Perceptions p. 16 Report of Interviews with Public Relations Industry Employers p. 36 5

6 The State of Public Relations/Communication Management Master s Degree Education in the United States: A Curriculum Audit of Graduate Programs By Rowena Briones, M.A. Department of Communication University of Maryland I. Introduction a. Purpose b. Method II. List of Tables a. Type of School b. Admissions Requirements c. Name of Department d. Program Format e. Name of Program f. Number of Credit Hours g. Categories of Courses Offered h. Final Project 6

7 Introduction Purpose The Commission of Public Relations Education (CPRE) sought to conduct a curriculum audit, in order to provide a compendium of schools offering graduate programs in public relations/communication management, including curriculum, entrance requirements, target audiences, and whether accredited. This type of analysis was done only once before by Aldoory and Toth (2000) 1, whose sample totaled 26 graduate programs. In this particular audit, the sample has increased three-fold. Of the 75 programs audited, 36 were in public universities and 39 were in private universities. Most of the programs (82.7 percent) used a traditional inclassroom format. Eight of the programs were strictly online and four of the programs were blended or a combination of in class and online delivery of courses. Method The initial sampling frame consisted of schools listed as having a graduate program in public relations/communication management in the directories of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication and the National Communication Association. In addition, the 2011 edition of Where Shall I Go to Study Advertising and Public Relations was reviewed to include more schools into the sample. Lastly, recent issues of PR Week were reviewed for advertisements from schools that identified themselves as public relations/communication management programs. The final sample resulted in a total of 75 programs. The websites for each program in the final sample were analyzed further for a series of categories asked by CPRE. It should be noted that a major limitation of this analysis is that several categories are limited to what is mentioned on the website; for example, course descriptions listed on programs websites may not be reflective of the entire curriculum. Additionally, several websites were found to be out-of-date and have not been updated with the most recent information. However, in spite of these limitations, findings from the curriculum audit reveal that graduate programs in public relations/communication management are starting to look more similar in content and scope, a major difference as compared to Aldoory and Toth s (2000) study. As the following tables show, the graduate program curricula analyzed suggests some comparison with the Professional Bond recommended content areas, with 64 percent of the programs requiring a public relations research course; 52 percent requiring a communication theory course; 50.7 percent requiring a public relations course; and 50.7 percent requiring a public relations programming and production course. However, these results suggest that there is still a lack of consistency across curricula than might be desired to build a common understanding of public relations graduate program studies. To add to this difference in curriculum choices, there is wide variety in the titles of the graduate programs, with the highest percentage (24 percent) of the programs called public relations. The next highest percentage of programs (14 percent) were titled strategic communication. About one-third of the programs required that the applicant take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). Another 30 percent required either the GRE of the 1 Aldoory, L., & Toth, E. L. (2000). An exploratory look at graduate public relations education. Public Relations Review, 26(1),

8 TOFEL. Required credit hours ranged from 48 to 21. A majority of programs did not publish that they had a culminating experience. The tables on the following pages detail the findings from the curriculum audit. 8

9 Table 1 Type of School N % Public Universities Private Universities

10 Table 2 Admissions Requirements N % GRE Required GRE or TOEFL No GRE Required 9 12 GRE Waived if High GPA/Experience 9 12 GRE/GMAT/TOEFL 3 4 TOEFL Required GRE or GMAT Only 5+ Years of Experience Only High GPA NOTE: GRE = Graduate Record Examination; TOEFL = Test of English as a Foreign Language; GMAT = Graduate Management Admission Test. 10

11 Table 3 Name of Department N % Communication Public Relations Mass Communication Graduate Studies Journalism Journalism & Mass Communication Communication & Journalism Communication Studies Communication & Theatre Arts Integrated Marketing Communication Advertising & Public Relations Professional Studies Public Communication Advertising, Public Relations, & Retailing Continuing/Distance Education Online Learning Communication & Media Studies Business Executive Education Journalism, Strategic Communication & Media Arts Professional and Business Communication Public Relations & Corporate Communication Media & Public Affairs Strategic Communication Culture & Communication Advanced Academic

12 Table 4 Program Format N % Traditional Online Blended

13 Table 5 Name of Program N % Public Relations Strategic Communication Communication Management Advertising & Public Relations Communication Public Communication Public Relations & Corporate Communication Integrated Marketing Communication Journalism & Mass Communication Strategic Public Relations Media & Public Relations Corporate Communication Mass Communication Corporate & Organizational Communication Global Communication Strategic Communication & Leadership Public Relations & Issue Management Corporate & Professional Communication

14 Table 6 Number of Credit Hours N %

15 Table 7 Courses Matched to Professional Bond Content Areas* Public Relations Research: the application of social science research to the planning, implementation and evaluation of strategic public relations practice. Communication Processes: Theories and practices of communication (organizational, interpersonal, intercultural, small group, persuasion, rhetorical and conflict resolution). Public Relations Theory and Concepts: Leading theories of public relations scholarship. Public Relations Programming and Production: Advanced principles and practice techniques, particularly those related to the use of new technology, the Internet and telecommunication. (Note that in this audit it was more the techniques vs. the principles piece). Public Relations Management: All aspects of strategic public relations management, including principles, planning, organizing, evaluating, staffing, counseling, leadership, leading in inclusive settings and budgeting. Public Relations Applications: Public relations practice in corporate, government, and nonprofit settings. Public Relations Ethics: The philosophical and practical aspects of public relations ethics. Public Relations Law: Regulations and laws that affect the practice of public relations. Global Public Relations: Public relations practice in the international and transnational environment, covering global trends and topics. Management Sciences: Accounting, finance, management, marketing, diversity management and strategic integrated communication applications. Internship or Practicum Experience: Opportunities to obtain and build strategic management skills through project assignments and experiences. Public Relations Publics: Studies of publics and their relational interests in and consequences of organizations. N % Behavioral Sciences: Social psychology, cultural anthropology, sociology, and political science. *Commission on Public Relations Education (2006, Nov.), The Professional Bond. 15

16 Table 8 Final Project** N % Thesis Capstone Project **PLEASE NOTE: A majority of programs had no culminating experience indicated on their website. 16

17 2011 Report of a Survey of Public Relations Practitioner and Educator Perceptions of United States Public Relations or Communication Management Master s Programs Elizabeth L. Toth, Ph.D., University of Maryland Hongmei Shen, Ph.D., San Diego State University August 1, 2011 Table of Contents Introduction Literature Review Methods and Procedures Results Demographics Deliverable: Knowledge Deliverable: Skills Courses in Related Disciplines Courses Requirements External Criteria Structure of Delivery Importance of Master s Degree Important or Not Which Master s Programs Most Valuable Master s Useful for What Kinds of PR positions Gender Differences Conclusions Introduction While there has been exponential growth in United States public relations or communication management master s programs, very little is known about how the public relations industry or public relations educators perceive graduate programs in public relations/communication management; yet, both practitioners and educators have major stakes in whether these graduate programs are delivering educational development that will contribute to the practice of public relations. This study sought to obtain benchmark data as part of a larger research project to obtain information with which the Commission on Public Relations Education will issue a monograph on U.S. public relations or communication management master s programs. The objectives of this study were to learn: (1) how public relations educators and public relations practitioners view the deliverables, such as knowledge and skills, of a public relations/communication management master s program; (2) how educators and practitioners perceive the importance of educational standards for master s education in public relations/communication management: (3) how educators and practitioners perceive the ways in which universities deliver master s programs in public relations/communication management; (4) of what value educators and practitioners perceived that a master s degree in public relations/communication management would have in obtaining employment in the public relations industry; (5) and whether specific kinds of master s degrees were preferred. 17

18 To meet additional objectives for its monograph, The Commission on Public Relations Education is gathering information regarding the perceptions by public relations industry employers of the value of graduate public relations/communication management education and is auditing existing programs to examine their curricula, entrance requirements, target audiences, and whether accredited. Based on these three research streams, the Commission will be assessing whether graduate programs in public relations/communication management are preparing students to lead the public relations/communication management field. Master programs use various titles, such as public relations, strategic public relations, integrated communication, integrated communication management, to name a few. This study chose to use the terms public relations and communication management synonymously because its purpose was to focus on an advanced course of study beyond the curricula and program content found in undergraduate public relations degrees. Literature Review Previous literature regarding educator and practitioner opinions about graduate public relations or communication management education have come from Commission on Public Relations Education reports and essays (Commission on Public Relations Education 1985, 1999, 2006; Russell, 1999; Russell, 2007; Vazquez & Botan, 1999; and Wright & Turk, 2007). A few qualitative surveys have audited public relations graduate program curricula found on websites (Aldoory & Toth, 2000), or asked in in-depth interviews what educator and practitioner leaders thought about graduate public relations education (Shen & Toth, 2008). Only a few quantitative studies (Hon & Fitzpatrick, 2004; DiStaso, Stacks & Botan, 2009 and Cotton & Tench, 2009) have surveyed educator and practitioner opinions about graduate public relations education. For example, DiStaso, Stacks and Botan found that two-thirds of their 312 respondents believed that graduate education in public relations was needed. Also, DiStaso et. al. found support for three approaches to graduate study: academic interdisciplinary, academic communication or a professional focus (p. 265). This study builds on prior studies findings in order to learn what two important stakeholders perceive what master s education in public relations and communication should deliver and how these master s programs are valued. Because of the few research studies that have been done, the questions and variables that make up this survey have come primarily from the Commission reports on graduate education and the expertise reported at a conference of educators (Special Issues: Education, 1999). Method and Procedures The researchers developed and pretested a quantitative electronic survey instrument that contained questions on: the knowledge and skills deliverables of a master s degree in public relations/communication management; recommended collateral courses outside the major area of study; program requirements; value in external evaluation of programs; and preference of delivery of programs. The questionnaire asked what master s degrees were most valuable for the field of public relations and what employment positions a graduate degree in public relations/communication management should qualify a student to obtain. Finally, a series of demographic questions were included. The survey instrument and an explanation of procedures and methods were approved by the institutional review boards of the University of Maryland and of San Diego State University. 18

19 To obtain the views of public relations practitioners, the researchers received permission to sample members of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) after the PRSA Committee on Research approved the survey questionnaire. Then, PRSA distributed the survey to a randomly selected sample of 5000 of over 20,000 members. PRSA issued three consecutive invitations to those members sampled to participate in the survey. To obtain educator participation, the researchers requested permission from the leadership of the Public Relations Divisions of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), the International Communication Association (ICA), and the National Communication Association (NCA) to issue invitations to their membership to participate in the survey. The invitations went out on the membership listservs of these three organizations. The resulting sample included 292 practitioners (63.1 percent), 122 educators (26.3 percent) and 49 (10.6%) participants who did not identify themselves as primarily a public relations educator or practitioner, for a total of 463 participants. Respondents who didn t make a choice of educator or practitioner may have been graduate students or retirees. Results Demographics Typically, the participant in this study was female, White, and was well-educated. Some 258 (63%) were females and 160 (58%) were males, with 45 participants giving no indication. The average age of the participants was 49 years. Most (78%) of the participants were White, Caucasian. Very few participants were African American, African descent, Black (5.8%), Asian, Pacific Islander, Asian American (3%) or Multi-racial (1.9%). Almost all of the participants were college educated. Some 137 (29.6%) had Bachelor s degrees; 175 (37.8%) held Master s degrees; and, 105 (22.7%) held doctorates. Over 55% of the total participants had studied Communication (21%), Journalism (24%) or Public Relations (10.8%) at the undergraduate level. 2 Only 12 or 2.6% of the sample reported undergraduate business majors. The most frequently listed graduate majors for the total sample were Communication (23.3%) and Public Relations (16%). Next in most frequently mentioned graduate majors were Business (7.8%), Journalism (7.3%) and Social Sciences (6%). (See Table 1 for complete demographic breakdown.) Demographic Breakdown by Educators and Practitioners. Educators participating in the survey were more equally split in gender between males (58 or 47.5%) and females (63 or 51.6%). The average age of the educator participants was 52.1 years, with an age range of 22 to 71 years. Over 83% of the educators were White, Caucasian. Over 80% of the educators responding held doctoral degrees. Educators reported having on average14 years of academic experience. Educators were most likely to have studied at the graduate level such majors as Communication (56 or 45.9%), Public Relations (27 or 22%) or Journalism (17 or 13.9%). Some 34% of the educators reported having a PRSA credential. The practitioner gender in this sample was more representative of the imbalance of women and men in the field, with approximately two-thirds female participants (65.4%) and onethird (33.9%) male participants. The average age of the practitioner participants was 47.2 years with a range of 23 to 72 years. Over 87% of the practitioners were White, Caucasian. Practitioners reported having on average 20 years of professional experience. The practitioners I t should be noted that study of public relations at the undergraduate level and at the graduate level is still done under degree titles such as C ommunication and Journalism. There are few programs that have public relations as the final degree title. 19

20 generally held Bachelor s degrees (45.9%) or Master s degrees (51.7%). On the graduate level, the highest percentage of practitioners reported having studied Communication (17%), Public Relations (15%), Business (10.3%), or Social Sciences (7.2%). Some 50% of the practitioners in this study were PRSA credentialed. Deliverables: Knowledge The participants were asked to indicate on a scale of 1 to 7 whether they strongly disagreed to strongly agreed with whether a series of knowledge items should be included in a master s program in public relations/communication management (See Table 2). Almost all of the responses to the list of knowledge items were above the average of a 3.5 mean score. However, the highest overall mean scores were on knowledge of ethical issues (a combined mean score of 6.41 on a 7 point scale. Also of highest agreement were knowledge of strategic PR in Digital/Social/Environment (6.30 on a 7 point scale), Crisis Management (6.25), relationship management (6.14), public relations theories (6.10), legal issues (6.02) and risk communication (6.00). In addition to reporting the descriptive statistical responses of the participants, a factor analysis was done to learn whether there were broader groupings of the knowledge items. An exploratory factor analysis resulted in four different groupings of 12 of the items which the researchers titled strategic management, business, theoretical foundations, and globalization. Each of these groupings included the following knowledge items: a) Strategic management: including knowledge in relationship management (loading =.55), strategic PR in a digital/social environment (loading =.74), crisis communication (loading =.84), and risk communication (loading =.78). b) Business: knowledge in advertising (loading =.83), finance (loading =.73), and accounting (loading =.80). c) Theoretical foundations: knowledge in communication theories (loading =.86), PR theories (loading =.80), and PR history (loading =.55). d) Globalization: knowledge in multicultural issues (loading =.76) and global issues (loadings =.80). A one-way ANOVA identified significant difference between educators and practitioners in their perceptions on the business grouping: F 1, 402 = 22.44, p <.01, eta squared =.05, with educators rating business significantly less highly. Educators rated the global issues grouping. F 1, 408 = 4.16, p <.05, eta squared =.01) significantly more highly than did the practitioners. Deliverables: Skills The participants were asked to indicated what skills a student in a master s degree in public relations/communication management should have mastered, with 7 indicating strongly agree and 1 indicated strongly disagree (See Table 3). Participants agreed that skills on all 15 items were important (5.82 on a 7 point scale, SD. 73). Most highly prioritized by the participants was mastery of language/oral or written form (6.55 or 7 point scale). Also above 6.0 in mean scores were strategic planning (6.21), ethical decision-making (6.19), persuasive writing (6.09), management of communication (6.05) and issues management (6.02). Research was prioritized next with a mean score of When performing an exploratory factor analysis on the items to see if there were any distinct groupings as had been found with the knowledge items, only one component of all 15 items was found: including skills in info management (loading =.70), language in written and oral form (loading =.67), negotiation (loading =.68), management of communication (loading =.75), strategic planning (loading =.77), audience segmentation (loading =.67), persuasive 20

21 writing (loading =.69), specific practice areas (loading =.62), visual literacy (loading =.67), managing people, programs and resources (loading =.73), interpersonal communication (loading =.67), ethical decision-making (loading =.68), social media techniques (loading =.68), public speaking (loading =.63), and applying cross-cultural and cross-gender sensitivity (loading =.61). The finalized scale is reliable with a Cronbach s alpha =.91. This analysis suggests that the skills items were closely related in the perceptions of the participants. One-way ANOVA identified significant difference between educators and practitioners in their perceptions of the skills grouping (F 1, 408 = 8.33, p <.01, eta squared =.02. Educators rated the skills component significantly less highly than did the practitioners. Deliverables: Courses in Related Disciplines that Should be Included in a Master s Program The study chose to use the concept of courses outside of the public relations/communication management related curriculum because prior research provides very little guidance of what the knowledge and skills should be consider corollary to the major area of study. Master s programs generally have some electives available to students outside of the program area. Course labels were generated through review of prior Commission reports and pre-testing of categories with Commission members (See Table 4). Overall, the course outside of the public relations/communication management program of student receiving the highest average score was organizational communication (mean of 5.79 on a 7 point scale). Next courses with average scores over 5.0 on a 7 point scale were mass communication law (5.48), digital media (5.46), organizational behavior (5.42), journalism (5.42) and marketing (5.40). Requirements Most master s degree programs in the United States have a capstone or culminating experience required. Participants indicated on a scale of 1 (strong disagree) to 7 (strongly agree) with whether the listed requirement types should be included in a master s program in public relations/communication management. Although the participants responses suggested agreement with all four types of culminating experiences (see Table 5), participants most strongly agreed (6.11 on a 7 point scale) with the inclusion of a comprehensive project completion. The practitioner mean response for the project was 6.24 on the 7 point scale. Both practitioners and educators rated next highest the inclusion of an internship or co-op program (5.64). Of next agreement were the comprehensive exam completion (5.39) and thesis completion (5.21). External Evaluation Participants were asked about the importance of having external evaluation of master s programs in public relations/communication management. Standard external evaluations come from the U.S. Department of Education which empowers accrediting associations for universities across the United States. However, there are other external bodies that evaluate and certify that master s programs meet certain standards, such as certification by the Public Relations Society of America, and accreditation by the Accrediting Council in Journalism and Mass Communication. These three external sources of credibility for programs received above the mean agreement that they were important overall: evaluation by the U.S. Department of Education (5.49), PRSA certification (5.18 for the total sample; 5.42 for the practitioners), and Accrediting Council accreditation (4.94 for the total sample; 5.14 for the practitioners). There seemed to be much less agreement on the value of a standardized curriculum in public relations/communication management no matter where one goes to study, especially from the educators (1.75). The overall responses to the questions regarding external credibility seemed to mirror an insider/outsider perspective, with educators closer to these forms of external evaluation feeling 21

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