I probably shouldn’t say this, but someone has to.
We’re producing too may PR graduates in the U.S.A., and a good many of them can’t find jobs in the field. It’ll only get worse as we plunge deeper into recession. So it seems like the perfect time to shrink the number of students studying public relations by raising our standards really, really high. Students will benefit and so will the profession and public relations education.
A good many PR grads are outstanding performers, but just as many are under-prepared as writers and strategists. I hear frequent complaints from professionals in my region (and elsewhere) about PR grads who can neither write clearly nor think critically. I also hear from grads themselves, some who feel betrayed by institutions that awarded them degrees without assuring their readiness or competence.
According to last year’s AEJMC survey, about 75% of PR grads landed full-time work, highest among the disciplines that AEJMC tracks. But if you review the schools in the sample (83 of them), you’ll find about half are AEMJC accredited, including a number of A-list programs, e.g, Georgia, Florida, Syracuse, Northwestern, Ohio, and more. These aren’t the schools turning out ill-prepared grads, which is why I believe the “real” placement rate for PR may be closer to 50%. AEJMC isn’t measuring schools that offer PR classes in English or Speech departments, and plenty do.
I wouldn’t be throwing this bomb if Kent State were among the guilty. Kent PR grads get jobs — 92% of them within 6 months of graduation. And they aren’t just ANY jobs. Our grads work in PR and closely related fields like marcom, events management and advertising.
Every PR program on every campus should know where its grads are working. No excuses.
9 ways Kent State produces job-placement ROI.
1. Never compromise standards. At Kent State, we’ve raised the bar really high. Some 30-40% of our PR students take an early exit, most of them because of weak writing skills. I teach the “knock out” course, PR Case Studies. Last fall, the class began with 24 students, but only 16 finished the course. At least 2 of those have left the major. My class last spring saw 90% make the grade, so it’s not all doom and gloom.
2. Make writing the core skill. We all know the importance of writing in PR, but do we practice it? At Kent State, sophomores take the same newswriting and reporting sequence as journalism majors. They learn to gather, organize and present information on tight of deadlines. They lose points for errors in grammar, usage and punctuation, and they learn to recite AP Style in their sleep. If you don’t write well, you don’t belong in public relations.
3. Select faculty with professional savvy. We’ve redefined the concept of “terminal degree” when it comes to hiring. To teach in our school, you must have substantial professional experience, and we accept that experience in lieu of the PhD. We haven’t devalued the doctorate, we simply treat professional accomplishment on par with it. We produce PR practitioners here at Kent State, and believe real-world experience makes a better teacher.
4. Stress hands-on learning in every class. I nearly used the word “training,” but it offends my academic colleagues. Training, they say, is for trade schools. But you know something? A lot of PR requires the skills of a tradesman. The craft of writing, the art of presentation, the skill of listening. All can be taught and all must be practiced. At Kent State students learn by doing, and doing, and doing. It’s a training regimen.
5. Make internships mandatory and help students find them. At least 1 internship should be mandatory, 2 preferred, 3 even better. Though we teach real-world skills in the classroom, you don’t polish those skills until you work in the real world, aka, the intern’s cubicle. Maintaining connections with 50+ internship employers takes a lot of faculty time, but it’s not an option. BTW, some 95% of Kent State’s internships are paid positions ranging from $8 to $18 an hour. About 20% of interns earn full-time jobs with their employers.
6. Stay on the cutting edge. Staying current with the profession is tougher for academics than for practitioners (and tougher today than it’s ever been). Few of us get financial support for professional development courses or to fund the cost of professional organizations like PRSA. My colleagues and I pay these costs out of pocket.
7. Adopt a business focus, but don’t sell out. If you want students to get jobs, it’s important to serve the needs of the profession, and that involves translating theory into a practical skill set. Don’t be afraid to criticize the profession, but also recognize that your students must fit in once they get there. Always put ethics first. The best practitioners do.
8. Track your data. Like Dizzy Dean said, it ain’t braggin’ if you can do it. At Kent State, we’ve been tracking job placement data since the mid-90s and will continue to do so at 5-year intervals. The task is easy, because we stay in touch with grads. We maintain an alumni listserv along with a PRKent group on Facebook. We invite up to 40 alumni to participate in our classes and programs each year. You can’t track success if you can’t find your grads. A good many of mine are friends on Facebook or connections on LinkedIn.
9. Eliminate students who don’t meet the standards. This could mean failing 30, 40, maybe even 50% 0f your students, unless you have an extremely high admission standard. Not fun, but prudent. Raise the performance bar and student success will follow. When students succeed, your program’s reputation grows. As the reputation grows, more top-performing students want to be part of it.
There’s lots more to talk about on this topic. For example, how can the profession help PR educator’s raise the bar? What’s the role for PRSA or IABC? But I’m nearing 1,000 words on this post.
Why don’t you take it from here?