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Professors analyze feedback on journalism accreditation process

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

LAWRENCE — In the rapidly changing profession of journalism, educators are tasked with giving students the technical knowledge they’ll need to succeed in their careers, balanced with a liberal arts education that fosters critical thinking. How exactly they get there is a difficult question to answer and the aim of accreditation standards. Two University of Kansas journalism professors have authored a study in which they surveyed administrators of journalism schools, finding that while they agreed most of the professional standards are helpful, they believe others need major changes.

Jerry Crawford IIScott Reinardy, associate professor, and Jerry Crawford II, assistant professor of journalism, surveyed administrators of programs accredited by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, known as ACEJMC. The body is composed of professional journalists and academics who have set nine standards for accreditation and evaluate schools to ensure they are meeting them. Sixty percent of 109 administrators responded, and of that, nearly 70 percent rated eight of the nine standards “good as is.”

The approval was not across the board, however, as 40 percent of respondents said the curriculum and instruction standard “needs major changes,” while 26 percent said the same for diversity and inclusiveness and 20 percent for assessment of learning outcomes, respectively.

Scott ReinardyReinardy and Crawford said they were not surprised by the dissatisfaction with the curriculum and instruction standard.

“There has always been a push/pull going on between professional journalists and instructors who say ‘students need to learn how to report and write’ and academics who say ‘you also need a broad, liberal arts education and so on,’” Reinardy said.

The most contentious part of the curriculum and instruction standard was the “80/65 rule,” which states that students must take 80 credit hours outside of the unit and at least 65 credit hours in the liberal arts and sciences, as defined by the unit. Thirty percent of the administrators who said the standard needs changes mentioned 80/65, primarily arguing it did not allow for flexibility and made it difficult for students who wanted to pursue a double major.

“With the increased demands on our graduates to know more about digital and social media, it is very difficult to address (80/65) without compromising the foundational knowledge and skill sets,” one respondent wrote.

The researchers agreed that flexibility is necessary, especially in a field as rapidly evolving as journalism.

“If you train a person to do only one thing, you have failed that person,” Reinardy said. “Because over 50 years of a career, that job will change.”

Diversity was another sticking point for many of the respondents. While institutions are required to have diversity within their units, many felt the standard relied too heavily on race. For many years “diversity” simply meant African-Americans and often still do not take into account women, international faculty or the LGBT community. Those issues, in addition to diversity among faculty — not having a majority of faculty with degrees from the same institution, for example — were an issue for respondents, Crawford said.

Dissatisfaction with assessment of learning outcomes was the least intense among the three noted standards. However, those who felt it needed change primarily noted there was a lack of clarity in how to assess what students have learned, a need for flexibility, confusion about what the standard should entail and the burdensome nature of fulfilling the standard.

The assessment standard was the only one that showed discrepancy between administrators of small and large schools. Administrators of large schools were much more likely to be dissatisfied with assessment than those of smaller programs.

The study, published in the journal Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, found that overall administrators value the process of accreditation. Respondents agreed that the financial investment in accreditation and investment of time and faculty in accreditation were worth the return to the rate of 69 and 63 percent, respectively.

Reinardy and Crawford were approached by ACEJMC to evaluate the accreditation standards and did not perform the study as advocates. They noted that the majority of positive response to accreditation standards suggests the body has been responsive to the needs of schools and the profession, and credit the group for beginning to make changes in the areas that showed dissatisfaction in the survey.

“Accreditation is very individualized from one institution to another,” Crawford said. “We should all be teaching to the same ultimate goals, however. I think the standards are very important in what we do as journalism educators.”

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