Recently, the University of New Mexico announced it was eliminating its traditional Public Relations and Advertising track, creating a merged “Strategic Communication” degree program. A UNM student, who was assigned to write a final paper on the topic asked for my thoughts on the creation of the new program. Here is what I had to say:
Eliminating traditional advertising and public relation degrees only to fold them into a strategic communication degree really illustrates how out of touch the University leadership is regarding the public relations industry, needs the business community and employability of its graduates. It is the equivalent of combining sociology and psychology or financial accounting and organizational management. It might look really good on paper but those moves are really out of touch with the specific disciplines.
While I cannot speak for the advertising community, eliminating a public relations degree program creates a ripple effect of negativity. For example, without a public relations degree program, the University of New Mexico no longer qualifies to host a Public Relations Student Society of America chapter. Having PRSSA helps students to make connections for internships. It also gets students out of textbooks and into reality, which makes them more employable.
What does “strategic communication” mean? By its name, it infers that some communication is not strategic? What it comes down to is how can the University of New Mexico prepare its students to help companies make connections with their target audiences? You can go the paid (advertising) or earned (public relations) path. Look at a television station, it has a sales department and a news department. Where the two collide is called advertorial, which has little credibility when compared to the respective traditional advertising and traditional public relation entities.
As an employer, I look specifically for public relation education and experience. Northwestern University, Syracuse, Pepperdine, University of Texas, University of Charleston and my alma mater Texas Christian University that have storied public relation programs. Those programs provide access to internships and real world experience. Will the new University of New Mexico approach provide that same kind of access? We will now be forced to wait and see.
I have no idea how prominent my comments were or even if the student passed his class.