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Banning Non-Majors in Skills Classes

April 18, 2011

Michael Bugeja, director,
Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication,
Iowa State University of Science and Technology

A major component of curricular streamlining at the Greenlee School involved a decision to ban non-majors from skills classes in journalism and advertising, ensuring that our own majors were not closed out of sections.

We made that change a few years ago when Iowa State University adopted a budget model that depended in part on how many student credit hours each unit generated per academic year.

As we are an accredited program allowing no more than 20 students in skills classes, we not only had to restrict non-majors from enrolling in our core classes but also had to funnel as many non-majors and minors into large section principle classes.

That generated sufficient credit hours while safeguarding our skills sections for majors. In time, four-year graduation rates improved.

In the meantime, several other ISU disciplines were developing degrees that potentially could compete with ours. English was offering classes in multimedia and feature writing; the College of Design was introducing a digital media major; and the College of Human Sciences had approved an event-planning degree.

Now our academic advisers began receiving appeals from non-majors and minors to take our skills classes. A few appeals had been approved in Undergraduate Committee, and our undergraduate director was concerned enough to ask me to intervene, explaining why our policies were necessary.

This is what I am doing today.

In a memo to staff, I provided some background and perspective.

Before restricting skills classes to majors only, appeals then had to do with majors not getting into required classes and wanting to substitute something else. Worse, we had non-majors who took a skills class or two calling themselves our majors. I had to deal with that personally at several media outlets when complaints came to the main office about lack of preparation.

If we continued to allow non-majors in skills classes, they could create portfolios and clipbooks and not only take seats of majors but also potentially internships and jobs.

What began as curricular streamlining in response to a new budget model became something else—preserving our pedagogy in a world of digital duplication.

This is why I have been so concerned about institutions discontinuing journalism and mass communication programs but offering our pedagogy through a college of liberal arts or other discipline. New degrees are using the word “digital,” “media” or “multimedia” as in digital media, multimedia design, digital arts, media arts, multimedia marketing, and so forth.

As each adopts curricula to that effect, all those units need is a few skills classes offered by remaining journalism professors or professional adjuncts to help students create portfolios.

I consider this type of encroachment a potential threat to the quality of journalism and mass communication programs in an era of tight budgets and digital duplication.

Is any of this a concern at your department, school or college?

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