April 26, 2016

Enrollment in the University at Albany’s journalism department may be driven less by the program than by the perceived lack of job opportunities after graduation, based on interviews with about two-dozen journalism students.


The most passionate among them are enhancing their options by supplementing classes with internships and working for the school newspaper, and they say this is the most valuable learning experience they have had, over their in-class education.


Enrollment in the UAlbany journalism program has decreased from 197 in the fall of 2009 to 142 in the fall of 2015. That makes a 28 percent decrease.


Kerry Kleinertz, a 19-year-old journalism major, said they are hoping the program will help them be a better writer. Luke Mosseau hopes they can use what they learn to become a film critic. Students also said they are interested in public relations and communications, and various other career paths for which journalism offers some foundations.


While journalism commonly refers to specific field of reporting and investigating, that is not all that students hope to get out of it. UAlbany offers a handful of courses that teach other styles and categories of journalism, but its main focus is reporting and newswriting, the title of two of the program’s five required classes.


With many students citing the program as a supplement to the other goals they have, journalistic or not, it seems that one of main causes for a declining trend in enrollment may be that the program does not offer enough in the way of other types of journalism. The program does not change nearly as frequently as the field of journalism does, and it does not include enough variation, according to students. “There are not very many courses offered,” transfer student and journalism major Molly O’Bryan said.


Rosemary Armao, program director, said she plans to have an exit survey placed on students’ chairs at graduation this May in an effort to adapt.  The survey would ask students how they feel about the program, now that they have completed it.


Comparing UAlbany journalism courses to that of Syracuse, Armao’s alma mater, UAlbany seems to offer basic overview classes whereas Syracuse has more specific courses within the sub-categories of journalism. There are seven photography classes at Syracuse and only one at UAlbany, an issue raised by Brittany Gregory, who said she has only “sort of” been able to enroll in classes she is interested in. Syracuse also offers courses on travel journalism, magazine editing, and newspaper editing.


Armao said one class she would add to UAlbany’s program would be data journalism, a specified field course, but noted that Syracuse has an entire journalism department, not just a program, so they do have more resources. Still, their ideas could appeal to more journalism students as they cater to specific goals. Honing specific skills in journalism can be useful, but students, especially the six seniors interviewed, don’t believe it is enough.


Tameka Abraham, a junior at UAlbany said, “I feel like the program spends too much time on the newspaper aspects and the foundations of journalism rather than helping us understand the world we live in today.”


At a journalism roundtable, the six seniors interviewed cite their internships and work on the school’s independent newspaper, the Albany Student Press, as more valuable experiences than what they learned in class. One student, Madeline St.Amour said, “You’ll learn the most outside of your classes.”


While it may not be a bad thing that students feel they learn by experience, the most involved and successful students are saying that they learn more out of the classroom. Armao said the new phase of program, paired with communications rather than English, is a much better fit.


Armao explained that in 2008 there were a lot of major plans for the program. There was going to be a concentration in science reporting, political reporting, and a visual concentration. Unfortunately, due to the issues with the economy at that time, these changes could not be made. “It’s the reality under new economic conditions,” she said.


In the few months Armao has been serving as director, she has been focused on and concerned with retention. “We get students into the program and we’re not keeping them,” she said. According to Armao, this is a University-wide issue. She said UAlbany’s retention rate is half that of other SUNY schools like Buffalo and Binghamton.


“Some of it is natural,” Armao explained. As the interviewed students touched on, journalism is a field of learning that you have to be willing to go out and do. “Journalism needs a lot of really dedicated reporters right now,” Nick Muscavage said. And not everyone wants to do it, which Armao says is okay and its healthy to move on for that reason.


However, she argued students complaint about not having enough to learn in journalism classes. “You’re crazy if you come in and take only journalism required classes. You do the required classes and then branch out,” she said, “There is a lack of imagination, maybe on all of our parts.”


Armao believes the resolution to the issue of non-specific classes is to branch out to other departments. Students who see only one photojournalism class can take an art class on photography and do what is called cross listing. Armao said she is happy to sit down with students and work out what classes they can take in other disciplines and give hem journalism credits for it.


“Journalism is a lot about just figuring it out for yourself,” Armao added. The successful journalism students are following that path, and as for retention and enrollment rates, with a new director looking into the issues, we may see new trends in the future.