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Experts Suggest Changes Could Elevate Comm at FDU

By Elizabeth Scalzo and Jen Malti

Editor-in-Chief  and Assistant Sports Editor

FDU Metropolitan Campus could benefit from innovative changes in the communication department, experts say. These changes could boost enrollment and help the university sharpen its competitive edge to compete with larger institutions in New Jersey.

The Equinox examines some possible solutions to elevate the department in the context of the financial challenges universities our size are facing throughout the country.

In the last year, some 30 communication programs have been cut across the nation because of COVID-19 financial constraints or university restructurings to focus on STEM.

Barbara Allen, director of college programming and former managing editor at the Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank in St. Petersburg, Fla., has created programs focused on helping journalists refine reporting skills. 

“If you want to make a million bucks, here’s what you do, you create a journalism school that’s built around fact-checking,” Allen said. 

Finding a niche focus and adding classes/training resulting in certificates or specializations for professionals are ideas to explore, Allen told The Equinox.

“Schools should be adding more specialty programs like [covering] higher education, sports media, Title IX and different issues that need experts to report on it,” she said. “I haven’t really seen a higher-education specialty so that would separate your school from the rest.”

Ray Schroeder, a contributor for Inside Higher Ed, is an associate vice chancellor at the University of Illinois Springfield and a communication professor (emeritus). He  has consulted on higher-ed communication program revamps. He also suggested finding specializations as a way to differentiate a program.

“I have not seen any courses or specialization on higher ed in other universities,” Schroeder said. “Higher ed is in high transition. It will be useful for reporters to have insight.”

This idea builds on the conversation about retention and enrollment of those who are already in the industry to add such a specialization to their resumes, Schroeder said. 

This would be the pitch to people already in the field: “You are going to need retraining, you could use a Fairleigh Dickinson University certificate in XYZ,” Schroeder told The Equinox.

A full-time professor specializing in reporting on higher education and fact-checking might be beneficial to the program. And, by offering innovative certifications for industry professionals, as well as new specializations for future students, FDU could have an opportunity to make an impact and build a reputation.

However, he said, changing the curriculum won’t benefit the university if it’s not marketed correctly. That can be a hefty price to pay.

“Midsized and smaller universities are hurting because they don’t have the revenue that bigger schools do,” Schroeder said. Social media, he said, provides a viable and frugal solution for marketing.

One in five Americans get their news from social media, a Pew Research Center study from 2018 reports. Increased social-media usage also can influence where students choose to go to college. Students who can’t visit campuses can use things like geotags on Instagram to view the campus from a current student perspective, according to Time magazine.

Social media marketing isn’t the only thing FDU should consider. Having current students and industry professionals join a committee charged with working to innovate the program is also an important step to consider, Schroeder said. 

“They need to be sure to have students on that committee that meets with the industry,” he said.

Student involvement in the continuous development of the program could help minimize the frustration reported in this series. This committee can also work with marketing professionals at FDU to promote the program in innovative ways across social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram and TikTok.

Allen suggested that FDU consider accreditation for its program by joining an academic association.

“Fairleigh Dickinson should become accredited with the AEJMC,” Allen said.

The AEJMC [Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication] website says its mission “is to promote the highest possible standards for journalism and mass communication education.” 

To become accredited, colleges and universities have to go through a rigorous process of self-examination and independent peer audit with the ACEJMC  [Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications]. 

ACEJMC is the agency responsible for the evaluation of professional journalism and mass communications programs in colleges and universities, according to its website

Currently, 117 schools are accredited with the ACEJMC seal of approval. Susan Keith, chair of the Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers, was elected vice president of AEJMC in 2019.

The process of accreditation, according to the ACEJMC, spans a six-year period that starts by scheduling a team visit to the university seeking accreditation or reaccreditation three to five years in advance. To begin the process, the chief executive officer of the college or university seeking accreditation has to send a letter of invitation to the ACEJMC executive director.

Costs of accreditation site visits, depending on the size of the member teams, can range between $3,000-$5,500. The visits are thorough and involve much paperwork, interviews with students and staff as well as sitting in on classes and touring facilities.

Accreditation does not need to happen immediately, since FDU is working to rebuild the program but should be looked into to help add to the program’s reputation in the future. 

New communication equipment and space should also be considered. 

Alexander Rosen, a working journalist since graduating from Arizona State University with a degree in journalism and mass communication, has worked for CNN, NBC and others sees the rate of change coming even faster.

“Technology’s just going to expand even more rapidly than we’ve seen in the last 10 years,” he told The Equinox. 

FDU communication facilities will need to expand to compete. Montclair State University, which is 12 miles from FDU, has 4K and high-definition television control rooms and studios, a film studio, a multifaceted audio production center, a multiplatform News Lab and more, as found on the university website.

The costs to upgrade go beyond equipment. FDU officials indicate the school wants to hire a full-time professor to spearhead a plan to reinvigorate the program.

The average yearly salary for a full-time professor at FDU Metro campus ranges from $74,000-$102,000, according to data.chronicle.com

FDU is conducting a four-year $100 million campaign titled “One University, Many Dreams.” Its mission, according to the FDU website, “over the next four years, One University Many Dreams will support a broad array of the University’s most innovative programs and initiatives.”

Included in the mission are projects such as a, “new Campus Union Building for the Metropolitan Campus; a new Science Building; a renovation of the current science facilities into a state-of-the-art home for Silberman College of Business; and upgraded athletics facilities at the Florham Campus.”

As noted by FDU STEM alumna Sonal Tulsyani, communication skills can be an advantage to STEM majors. So that could justify the allocation of part of this funding to the communication curriculum.

None of this will happen overnight and there is still much work ahead of us. We hope to speak to Dr. Gary Radford, FDU Communication Department Chairperson and professor of communication, about plans for the future of the department at Metro.

From our reporting, we offer these solutions for the communication curriculum at FDU:  

  1. Add a higher-education reporting niche
  2. Add a fact-checking niche
  3. Adding certifications for continuing education for people in the industry
  4. Hire at least one more full-time professor
  5. Create a committee with students and professionals in the industry
  6. Promote the new program via social media

What do you think, FDU?

Please write and share your thoughts on the changes or your ideas or to comment and critique our reporting. We are waiting to hear your thoughts. Follow the conversation with the #SAVECOMM on social media.

ABOUT THIS SERIES

This is the fifth story in an examination of the future of communication as a discipline at FDU and its place in the academic environment. The reporting was conducted as an offshoot of the writers’ work in examining the future of communication in Professor Mo Krochmal’s independent study class in Advanced News Writing for the Spring 2021 semester. Krochmal also serves as academic advisor to The Equinox.

The series started Monday, examining the announcement that freshman admittance to the Metro communication program for the 2021-2022 school year will be suspended and what is at stake for the program and for its students — now and in the future.

In the article published Tuesday, we heard the frustrations of students who have struggled to complete their requirements to graduate on time.

The coverage on Wednesday examined the future of communication in higher ed.

Thursday’s coverage examined the restructuring of the department in the context of a larger restructuring of the university.

Please follow us on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. Write to us at equinoxfdu@gmail.com.

Art by Elizabeth Scalzo.

In part five we propose solutions for the future of the communication department.

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