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Degree Transparency

June 8, 2016

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

In my work as a higher education consultant and as an occasional member of accreditation teams, I often review curricula for content involving technology, diversity and other pedagogical standards, including publicized majors.

Today I am doing background research on the topic of majors and, depending on what I find, may publish a piece about what parents of and prospective students should know before deciding to attend a particular college or university, especially in journalism and mass communication.

This is a matter of transparency; the question concerns what is publicized online about majors and told to prospective students and their parents in advising and recruitment sessions. Also, I wonder, what information is being withheld about the field of study and what will appear on the transcript, the degree and the diploma?

The transcript has two requirements: listing of the major and the type of degreeŚnot bachelor of science or arts, but the specific field of study. For instance, a person can major in public relations in a journalism and mass communication degree program. In that case, the diploma would read bachelor of arts (or sciences) in journalism and mass communication. PR would only appear on the transcript. Or a person can major in public relations in a public relations degree program. In the latter case, PR would normally be listed on the transcript, degree and diploma.

Earlier this month during a routine Google search, I happened upon a bevy of journalism and mass communication majors from various colleges and universities. I was not always impressed with what I found. Case in point: Unaccredited programs have created digital media majors in degree programs only marginally related to mass communication.

I’m sensitive to that because transparency is more important than ever in our disciplines. Also, the proliferation of majors is a cause for concern because of duplication, not only in the same state or region but sometimes in the same institution. That adds to curricular glut, which causes tuition to rise and student debt to mount.

This may be happening for a revenue reason. Media and digital communication courses are popular, and many budget models at institutions are based on curricula that helps recruit new “majors” and larger enrollments. As a result, some departments may be marketing fields of study that do not appear on the transcript, degree and/or the diploma. I will be investigating that.

This week I contacted the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, which agrees that as a function of transparency, institutions should note whether the major is listed on the transcript along with the field of study that will appear on the degree and, ultimately, the diploma.

For instance, at the Greenlee School at Iowa State University, majors in advertising, journalism and mass communication, and public relations can look forward to those fields of study appearing not only on transcripts but also on their earned degrees and commencement diplomas. Our PR major was created three years ago. Prior to that, we did not state that Greenlee had an accredited PR major, even though the number of credit hours in public relations could have totaled sufficiently to warrant a degree. One reason is that Iowa State has strict guidelines for the creation of majors. We honored that and went through the necessary processes to the Iowa Board of Regents.

Honoring processes shows commitment to students and the desired discipline. It also is honest in recruitment of majors from prospective cohorts.


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