A-State eyes journalism program

Plans for discontinuation aren’t last word, officials declare

Though the multimedia journalism program at Arkansas State University is being discontinued by the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board, university administrators have not given up on journalism education.

"This is not a program we want to lose," Chancellor Todd Shields said. "This is an important one."

The Coordinating Board reviews programs offered by the state's colleges and universities for viability on a rolling three-year average. If the number of graduates drops below a certain threshold -- which varies depending on the degree -- it's considered nonviable and flagged for discontinuation, according to Todd Clark, A-State's chief communications officer.

Other A-State offerings flagged earlier this year by the Coordinating Board include the master's in Criminal Justice, Emergency Medical Technician (Basic) certificate of proficiency, Health Communications graduate certificate, bachelor of science in Health Promotion, Leadership Studies certificate of proficiency, bachelor of arts in Music, Paramedic technical certificate and Paramedic associate of applied science degree.

The Coordinating Board's process and benchmarks for discontinuing programs are "very fair," and the university is likely to allow the discontinuation of the other offerings, although "we're gathering information on a couple of those" with the possibility of attempting to resurrect them as well, Shields said. "We're looking at viability of one or two, but we're trying not to duplicate" offerings that are widely available at other schools, particularly in the ASU System.

However, A-State is committed to maintaining journalism, and Shields hopes to have a proposal to present to the Coordinating Board in the first half of 2024 so that journalism can remain an offering at A-State for students who enroll next fall.

"We hope to come up with a revised [program] that can meet contemporary student needs but also be rooted in the traditional values and skills of journalism," Shields said. "We're willing to put resources behind this."

"The journalism industry is rapidly evolving, and we are committed to offering a journalism program that produces graduates ready to meet the challenges of today's media climate and opportunities, [and] we are currently collaborating with the faculty to reimagine what that might look like," added Clark. "The journalism program at A-State has a strong history and has produced many prominent alumni around the state and country."

In addition, "journalism may be more important than ever right now, in an age of misinformation, when we can't agree on what facts are, and so many are just in their own echo chambers," Shields said. An "informed citizenry" is paramount "to keeping our democracy," and it's journalists who inform the citizens.

This summer, Shields and Calvin White Jr. -- provost and executive vice chancellor -- met with the School of Media and Journalism faculty, "who under university-shared governance must develop and approve all curriculum changes, [and] we expressed support and potential funding for a new, collaborative vision for the journalism program," according to the chancellor.

"We are still awaiting their proposal," but remain "optimistic that the faculty will work together, not only to save a rich and historically strong program, but also for the benefit of our students and university."

The number of enrolled students and graduates of the multimedia journalism program has been in decline for the past few years, according to Shields. Students majoring in it decreased from 59 in 2020, to 43 in 2021, to 36 the following year and with only 13 graduates total from 2020-22.

"The impression I've gotten is that, from a student perspective, the program is not seen as what they are looking for in this contemporary media environment," Shields said. In reconfiguring the program, A-State is looking at other journalism schools in the state and nation that have not experienced enrollment drops -- and/or who have even seen enrollment gains -- for guidance.

For example, it's evident that social media will have to be more of an emphasis in the future, he said. However, the basic principles of journalism cannot be lost, either.

The university has a long and storied history of producing outstanding print and broadcast journalism graduates who have gone on to successful careers, and Shields has encouraged faculty and administrators to seek alumni feedback in compiling a revised degree offering, he said. "What [skills] does the industry need now? What should we [emphasize] in the degree? How can you get a job after graduating?"

Students currently enrolled in the journalism program, as well as the other degrees targeted for discontinuation, will be able to graduate as planned, according to Shields. If the Coordinating Board approves a reconfigured journalism offering at A-State in 2024, students in the current journalism program will have the option of continuing through graduation or switching to the revised degree.

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