Georgia State may be at risk of losing journalism major students concentrating in public relations after Kennesaw State announced its own plans to implement a new degree focusing on the program for fall 2015.
Georgia State professor Dr. Richard Welch said high school students wanting to pursue a public relations degree are more likely to choose Kennesaw State over Georgia State because of the new major.
“I think what is going to happen is they will begin to siphon off those kids who have a real desire to go into public relations and we will get kids who are not quite sure what they want,” he said. “Kennesaw is going to be a lot more flexible to develop more courses and I think they are going to be better able to recruit high school students who want to be in public relations.”
Before teaching public relations and other communication classes at Georgia State, Welch taught at Kennesaw State for 12 years. He said Kennesaw State has always been a university focused on improvements.
“Kennesaw State has been very good at identifying needs and jumping on them very quickly. It is very traditional that young colleges can move more deftly than old colleges and we happen to be an old college,” Welch said.
Kennesaw is now the fourth Georgia university to have an undergraduate public relations major. Universities with an undergraduate public relations program include the University of Georgia, Georgia Southern and Reinhardt University, according to Education-Portal.
However, this is not the first time Kennesaw State has implemented new programs that would also fit Georgia State’s programs and faculty, according to Welch.
“About three or four years ago Kennesaw started a master’s in international communication, which is fascinating because we have a very strong program in faculty who work in international communication,” he said. “We weren’t quick enough to get in there and get this international communication master’s degree.”
Barbara Gainey, a chair member of Kennesaw State’s department of communication, said this change has been a work in progress since 2012 with the support of surveyors.
“We did a survey of our public relation students, we talked to faculty, we talked with public relation professionals and got a lot of support for moving in the direction of a separate major for public relations,” she said.
Gainey also said this change was motivated to better prepare students for when they graduate.
“It is often hard for employers and universities to identify how students essentially focused their studies. Separate majors will provide that area of focus that should be clear to employers in how these students have specialized and what their level of preparation will be because of the program,” she said.
Welch said implementing new majors would be difficult for Georgia State to compete with Kennesaw due to lack of full time faculty.
“The reality is in many other schools, our department would be its own school and we would have five different departments including public relations,” he said. “If you look at the number of majors in the arts and sciences degree programs and you look at them and order them by number of students, public relations as a degree program would take sixth or seventh out of 23.”
This implementation of a separate major is hoped to be followed by the other areas of focus under the Communications department at Kennesaw State, according to Gainey.
“We hope to gradually be moving to four separate undergraduate majors in our program instead of one massive Communications umbrella,” she said.
Gainey also said she is unsure there will be an increase in student numbers brought by the new program.
“We have what is called a gated program in our department. It means that students have to have a specified and adjusted GPA and have to pass a writing test,” she said.
Georgia State associate professor Dr. Natalie Tindall said she expects the undergraduate program at Kennesaw State to be a great opportunity based off of the current public relations program.
“As Georgia State asks more departments to offer workforce-readiness programs, I hope that this degree program at KSU will prompt the leadership to put additional resources in the current PR curriculum,” she said.
Tindall also said she hopes news of Kennesaw State’s major will spark Georgia State public relation students to advocate for change.
“This degree program may not be an immediate threat to our program, but with time, it will be if our program does not adapt to meet the needs of students and practitioners,” she said.