February 18, 2014
Michael Bugeja / DOUG WELLS / DES MOINES REGISTER
Article courtesy of the Des Moines Register: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20140215/OPINION01/302150055/Bonus-column-Universities-must-monitor-and-ease-student-debt?Opinion
This is the text of a speech delivered by Michael Bugeja, director of Iowa State University’s Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at an Iowa Newspaper Foundation luncheon earlier this month in Des Moines.
Journalism, especially print media, has spent so much time in the past two decades trying to change with the digital times. Publishers have developed websites, applications, video premiums, social media and so much more, writing, reporting and shooting visuals across media platforms. Community newspapers have invested thousands — hundreds of thousands — in new equipment and facilities to augment the latest integrated methods.
The Greenlee School has revamped its facilities as well, at little cost to the taxpayer, thanks to our corporate benefactors. We’re the longest, continuously accredited program in the country, along with several other schools. We’re cited as one of the top journalism programs in the country, too, by College Media Matters, Campus Explorer and Degree Directory, among others. Each ranking has mentioned our progress in multimedia and online journalism. Because of sponsors like Meredith Corp., Scripps Howard Foundation and Lee Enterprises, and community papers like the Harlan Tribune and North Scott Press, our equipment, internships, student media and workshops are among the best in the nation.
But it is not enough to enjoy that status. It is not enough for students to know and even master digital techniques and innovation. There is one more important task that journalism and other academic programs in the liberal and fine arts and social and food sciences must do, so we can place our best and brightest with employers, contributing to the state and national economies.
We must monitor and ease student debt.
Recently, the Iowa City Press Citizen reported the level of student debt in Iowa. Average loan debt in the state increased nearly 3 percent over last year and ranks as the sixth-highest in the nation.
At our two regents’ universities with journalism schools, average debt for all majors is about $30,000. That is too high for those seeking newspaper careers.
Ten years ago the average student loan debt at public institutions like Iowa State was $16,850. Five years ago, it was $20,200. Now it is $30,000. That’s a 44 percent increase. Salaries just cannot keep pace.
Let’s be clear about loan debt: There are many reasons for it. Until recently in Iowa, state funding of higher education declined so that student tuition dollars underwrote nearly 60 percent of budgets at regents’ universities. Just as newspapers had to gear up for the digital generation, colleges and universities had to as well. Moreover, students want all manner of recreational facilities as well as educational ones. Everything costs and adds to the debt burden.
Debt of journalism students at Iowa State is too high, at about the state average. The difference is, we’re committed to doing something about this.
We have created a transparency page so that our metrics are available for public scrutiny. You’ll find our graduation rates, scholarship awards, placement data and more on our public website. The Greenlee transparency page was recognized by our accrediting agency as a best practice. Soon all accredited journalism programs will have to create similar pages.
We address four-year graduation in prospective student meetings and in our orientation classes. Each student files an undergraduate plan of study for a four-year graduation date and starts a professional portfolio for job placement.
We give more than $150,000 in scholarships each year and dedicate as much funds as possible for incoming students. This has helped recruit dozens more students each year with a monetary bonus defraying debt.
The Greenlee School has enjoyed two record years of enrollment. We’re now approaching 800 majors and double majors in advertising, journalism, public relations and graduate education. One reason for the growth is our emphasis on placement. We have the most rigorous internship requirement in the country, a 400-hour faculty-supervised assignment in an approved outlet. We assess curricula, relying on professionals to help inform us on the latest media techniques for job placement. Our assessment is public information, too. Anyone can see how we are changing courses to adapt to media innovation. Because of alumni involvement in our program, we place 97 percent of our majors in jobs, military or graduate school within six months of graduation.
Finally, we revamped our courses to ensure timely graduation. We have rigorous lower and upper core courses that every major must take. Other courses have few, if any, prerequisites. As a result, more than 60 percent of our majors graduate in four or four and a half years, the latter taking internships in the summer of graduation, and 6 percent in three years. Our goal is to graduate 80 percent of majors in four years.
Our graduates are eager to work in Iowa newsrooms. Many have had that dream since childhood and many more while working for their high school publications. Most of our students want to remain in Iowa.
In his State of the State address, Gov. Terry Branstad spoke about the Iowa Dream. He said, quoting now, “Skyrocketing college costs have made reaching the Iowa Dream unattainable for too many. Those who do pursue higher education are often strapped with massive amounts of student debt that they spend decades paying off.”
The Greenlee School is committed to helping journalism students realize their dreams by defraying debt. But so should all programs of every college and university. The less debt students have, the better off they will be and the longer they will be gainfully employed, not only contributing to the economy but also to the well-being of our industry, state and nation.
Michael Bugeja,is the director of the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, Iowa State University of Science and Technology