After years of discussion and months of planning, the Schools of Journalism’s proposal to establish a second-year master of arts degree program is a dream close to being realized.
On Dec. 17 the University Senate approved the initiative as one of the final steps to finalize the proposal, and on Wednesday Dean Nick Lemann traveled to Albany to present it to the state for what he expects will be a fairly routine approval. This fall, about 25 students will enroll as the first group to work toward an M.A. in journalism from Columbia, in a program that the school claims is unlike any other.
The M.A. program is an attempt to add value to a journalism education, Lemann said, by emphasizing specialized areas of expertise: politics, arts, science, and business. The second-year M.A. program will build on the craft taught in the current 10-month master of science program by including both journalism classes and advanced courses of study from around the University. For instance, a student focusing on science journalism would take classes from professors in the journalism school and from professors in Columbia’s science department, learning concepts from the history of journalism to epidemiology.
The degrees will be conferred by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, whose Executive Committee has already approved the program. Currently, Lemann and others in the J-School are finalizing new hires and partnerships with the non-journalism Columbia professors who will co-teach many of the M.A. program’s courses.
After the initial class of 25 enrolls with a guarantee from the University to meet full financial need, Lemann expects that attendance will rise—to between 60 to 70 students—and that financial aid will drop. Currently, journalism students receive an average of $4,000 in aid a year, Lemann said, to assist with the $34,000 tuition. The University has only promised to meet the full-need of M.A. journalism students for a brief time period.
Opinions at the J-school seem mixed, as do opinions across the field of journalism. Debate focuses on a journalist’s need for graduate school at all, and on the need for specialization specifically.
Tom Namako, a journalism student, said he sees the value of specialization—he himself wants to focus on political reporting—but still says he won’t apply for the M.A. program. “I feel like the first year [on the job] will be plenty of training,” Namako said. He acknowledged that the M.A. program might teach some things he can’t pick up in the newsroom, but said he’s ready to graduate, and doesn’t know of many people who are applying.
But one of Namako’s classmates, Lisa Wong Macabasco, estimated that half the class is thinking about applying; good news for Lemann, who said officials are hopeing that more than half the current class of about 200 will apply.
Wong Macabasco will probably apply when the application is released in the next few weeks because she thinks going into the field with a specialized degree may help her market herself. Though she said many students are excited about the possibilities of the program, others are unsure. “A lot of people are a little bit hesitant,” she said, “we don’t know if the program will be good.”
She doubted that the prestige of the School of Journalism will be affected, but said many think of this initiative as Lemann’s “pet project.”
“If it fails,” Wong Macabasco said, “it is more of a reflection on [Dean Lemann] than on the program.”
Lemann seems confident. “We like to think of ourselves as the best,” he said, and added that staying the best necessitates evolution. “This is the first year of a program that will exist 100 years from now.”