To bolster the dwindling number of minority journalists, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are positioning themselves to become the major pipeline for supplying newsrooms with new talent. And to make sure their graduates can compete in the marketplace, some of these schools are strengthening their journalism programs and aiming for the highest level of academic recognition – accreditation.
Program chairs at HBCUs say accreditation would mean credibility in the eyes of prospective students, faculty, and news outlets looking for minorities to diversify their staffs.
“The mainstream press has said, ‘We can’t find anybody.’ How do you combat that? Give them students who are ready to work from an accredited institution,” said Teresa Jo Styles, chairwoman of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at North Carolina A&T State University.
HBCUs also are trying to shed the notion that “qualified” journalists of color only come from predominantly white institutions. They no longer want to be seen as providing an education that is somewhat less than what a student could get at a predominantly white school.
“It is especially important for HBCUs to seek accreditation because we need to focus on quality, high standards and preparing our students for the professional world if that’s what they choose,” said Pearl Stewart, director of Career Development Services in the School of Journalism and Graphic Communication at Florida A&M University.
Stewart heads the Black College Communication Association (BCCA), a not-for-profit organization funded by the Freedom Forum for administrators of HBCUs that have journalism programs. BCCA helps institutions improve their journalism programs and provides technical assistance for HBCUs seeking accreditation.
THE ACCREDITATION PROCESS
Accreditation is granted by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (ACEJMC). It assures students, parents, faculty, employers and the public that a program meets rigorous standards for professional education. Programs are re-evaluated every six years to ensure continued improvement in the quality of instruction.
In the United States, 500 colleges and universities offer journalism programs, but only 108 are accredited by ACEJMC.
Of 105 HBCUs, 40 offer communications programs. Only seven of those schools are accredited by ACEJMC: Florida A&M University, Grambling State University, Hampton University, Howard University, Jackson State University, Southern University-Baton Rouge and Norfolk State University.
Four other HBCUs have set their sights on accreditation within the next two years: North Carolina A&T, Alcorn State University, Winston-Salem State University and Savannah State University.
Many HBCUs are hampered in their efforts to gain accreditation because of a lack of facilities and equipment, professors with doctoral degrees and administrative support. The most important of these, department chairs say, is support from the administration.
“On certain campuses, in a practical sense there are more pressing issues,” said Stewart. “On some campuses, administrators may feel they should pursue high standards and have a quality program, but they feel they can do that without going through the hurdles and angst of the accreditation process.”
Last November, BCCA invited Susanne Shaw, executive director of ACEJMC, to explain the accreditation process to HBCU representatives.
Shaw says accreditation does not happen overnight. “It takes three to five years for a program if they want to go forward,” she said, adding that sometimes a school goes up for accreditation twice before it is successful.
The voluntary process begins with a pre-accreditation visit. Shaw looks at a program and suggests ways to comply with the council’s 12 accreditation standards. A journalism program is evaluated on the following: governance/administration, budget, curriculum, student records/advising, instruction/evaluation, faculty, internships, equipment/facilities, faculty scholarship/research/ professional activities, public service, graduates/alumni and diversity.
Faculty of each program seeking accreditation completes a self-study, measuring the unit’s performance against its mission and goals and against the 12 standards. After the self-study, a team of peer educators and journalism professionals visits the school and determines how well the program has met the 12 standards. The site team’s recommendation goes to the full council, which makes the final decision.
Styles of North Carolina A&T says HBCUs must often find creative ways to meet accreditation standards. For the public service standard, A&T has a partnership with the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Students from both schools are enrolled in a new course, “Reporting for a Diverse Community.” Classes alternate between campuses.
ACCREDITATION MEANS ADVANTAGES
Although Shaw says the number of HBCUs seeking accreditation annually is comparable to other schools, program chairs say the interest among HBCUs is higher than it has ever been for several reasons.
In addition to prestige and national recognition, accreditation would mean more money for HBCUs because they would be eligible to apply for grants and participate in writing competitions open only to accredited schools. Many schools are scrambling to find money in these tough economic times.
“It opens up a lot of doors for visibility and for the ability to seek funding,” said Styles.
Jobs are the main reason Shafiqur Rahman, chair of the 130-student Communications Department at Alcorn State, has been working to get his program ready for accreditation.
“We will be able to compete with the leading universities in Mississippi that take most of the internships and jobs in this area,” he said.
The lack of space, facilities and faculty has hampered Alcorn State’s accreditation efforts. “We were about to go for accreditation two years back, but then because of faculty turnover, we had to slow down, postpone and reorganize,” he said. “We have had to add new courses.”
The faculty has stabilized, but Rahman says finding space for the newspaper staff is still a problem. That means the weekly newspaper has become a twice-a-semester newspaper, he says.
Charles J. Elmore, head of the Department of Mass Communications at Savannah State, says accreditation has been part of the university’s strategic long-range plan. The program, which has been offering degrees since 1982, officially became a department last August. It has 145 students.
In preparation for accreditation, the university has pumped $1.5 million into the communications program. About $700,000 was used for renovating buildings, and the rest was spent on new equipment, including digital cameras, editing equipment and software.
“[Accreditation] will make sure we have all the new curriculum offerings that will enable our students to go into the marketplace to get jobs,” said Elmore.
At Winston-Salem State, Brian Blount, chair of the Mass Communications Department, says his program took the first step toward accreditation five years ago. Shaw evaluated the program and made recommendations. He plans to invite Shaw back this year to see if the 200-student department is ready for the next step.
“[Accreditation] will allow us to effectively recruit more qualified students,” Blount said. “Students seem to gravitate toward programs they feel are accredited. We have all the practical and theoretical components … but in terms of name recognition, we lack that and it hurts us.”
FILLING A VOID
HBCUs say another part of their mission is to fill the void left by defunct minority training programs that sprang up in the 1960s and 1970s when the civil rights movement highlighted the need for African-American journalists.
While the number of minority journalists at newspapers rose nearly a half of one percentage point to 12.07 percent in 2001, a survey by the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) found that 45 percent of the newspapers had no minorities on their staff, compared with 44 percent the previous year. Of the 956 daily newspapers surveyed, 431 reported no journalists of color.
The 2002 Radio Television News Directors Association/Ball State University Women and Minorities Annual Survey found that the percentage of minorities in television newsrooms dropped to 20.6 percent from an all-time high of 24.6 percent the previous year.
RTNDA and ASNE suggest news organizations develop a close relationship with HBCUs, because that is where they will find the largest concentration of potential employees of color.
According to a study conducted at the University of Georgia, 27.4 percent of the African-American journalism and mass communication bachelor’s degree recipients in academic year 2000-2001 graduated from HBCUs. Another 4 percent completed their studies at a university affiliated with the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. Hispanic-serving institutions granted 31 percent of the degrees earned by Hispanic students, the study said.
“If you’re going to offer degrees in mass communication and journalism, you ought to think to have the highest quality program that you can and to seek accreditation,” said Shirley Staples Carter, director of the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University and founding chair of Norfolk State’s Department of Mass Communications and Journalism.
Cheryl Mattox Berry is an associate professor at Florida International University.