In a year of new media closures and old media layoffs, an increased number of recent graduates and experienced professionals have found master’s journalism programs more attractive than another year in the job market. Admissions officials at a number of graduate journalism programs
throughout the country report more applications and enrolled students than in past years – back when the national job Web site JournalismJobs.com didn’t feature a list of media companies who have suffered layoffs. “Graduate students are more numerous when there are fewer jobs,” said Harold Shaver, dean at Marshall University’s W. Page Pitt School of Journalism and Mass Communication. He reported a slight increase in his school’s enrollment this year, and he predicted the same will be true next year. Near ground zero of the dotcom implosion in San Francisco, schools saw the impacts of a struggling economy even more clearly. Michele Rabin, director of admissions at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley, said the program saw the largest application pool in its history for this academic year – up about 12 percent from last year. She attributed the increase in part to the economy’s downturn. “We did get a lot of applications from people who said in the first line of the application essay, ‘I was a dotcom bomb,’” she said. Rabin also said this year’s Berkeley class is older and has more journalism experience than past classes. The proximity to San Francisco has made the school more attractive to employees laid off by media companies based in the city such as the magazines Red Herring and The Industry Standard, which have both suffered recent cutbacks, she said. At Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Kam Farrell, director of graduate admissions, said school officials expect a 15 percent enrollment increase over last year. Like many of the other journalism schools, Farrell said enrollment went down two years ago, which she also attributed to the then-hot national economy. “Graduate schools nationwide felt that,” she said. “People had great opportunities out in business, so I guess they couldn’t pass those opportunities up.” But when the job market slows down, graduate programs often reap the benefits. “People take refuge in graduate school,” said Denise Lannon, coordinator of graduate student services at Temple University’s School of Communications and Theater. According to Lannon, the journalism program at Temple University also rose this year. Some schools use a rougher economy to determine their recruitment strategy. Recruiters at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications began stressing to potential students the advantage of having a specialized degree in the job market and how to use it to increase job prospects. They also focused on the school’s career center. “We know that’s ‘top-of-mind’ with people,” said Beth Barnes, an assistant dean at the school. “I don’t think we would have focused on it as strongly [if the economy was better].” Normally, she said, recruiters would have talked more generally about the quality of the program. The change in strategy worked well enough to boost the school’s enrollment to almost 600 in the one-year program – about 30 students more than the year before (but still lower than the nearly 670 students the school enrolled two years ago). Part of that increase may be due to the type of students that Newhouse attracts. Barnes said it caters to recent graduates from liberal arts undergraduate schools. “Those are the people who when the economy goes soft it’s harder to find jobs,” she said. And next year, Barnes said the trend points to more applications coming in. “I do think that our inquiries are up more than what they were last year at this time,” she said. School officials also noticed that many potential applicants were contacting Newhouse close to the deadline for applications this year. Some even called the school well past the deadline, asking if they could still send in applications for the fall. Barnes described the thinking of some of the tardy applicants: “Oops, I can’t find a job after all. Maybe I’ll go back to school.”
Fred Woodhams is a journalist who lives in Chicago.