KU journalism enrollment falls behind; Enrollment at other universities grows

By Rylie Oswald

Stauffer-Flint, the building of the University of Kansas William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications. Captured by Rylie Oswald.

Journalism enrollment fell from 837 to 696 between 2010 and 2021, and news and information enrollment dropped by 37% from 364 to 229, according to the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications website.

Data shows a steep decline in news and information enrollment compared to strategic communications.

In fall 2021, 470 students, nearly 68% of students, followed the strategic communication concentration while 229 students, around 32% of students, followed the news and information concentration, according to the Journalism School.

KU Journalism School enrollment based on concentration, according to the Journalism School website. By Abdullah Al-Awhad.

The decline in journalism enrollment indicates a lack of interest in the major, Assistant Dean Frances Lyons said.

Parents and prospective students often say hesitancy toward pursuing journalism is due to “uncertainty about what the profession will be like in the future,” Lyons said.

There is no data explaining the decrease in enrollment, but the decline could be due to lack of awareness among prospective students, Lyons said.

“Do they know what the options are in journalism?” Lyons said. “Maybe they do, but maybe they’re not as interested because they might be hearing about things in the world about journalism as a profession.”

Declining interest in news

Journalism students enroll in news and information due to familiarity, and “then they get exposed to strategic communications and think that it may be more relevant to their interests,” said Joseph Erba, associate professor and strategic communication concentration chair at the Journalism School.

“My guess is that most high school students are exposed to journalism via their school’s newspaper or even yearbook while there are not as many opportunities for high school students to explore other areas of mass communications, such as advertising and public relations,” Erba said.

A third major: media arts and production

The Journalism School currently offers two majors, strategic communication and news and information, according to the Journalism School website

Additionally, the school will offer media arts and production as a third major in fall 2022, according to the Journalism School’s Twitter page.

“Media arts and production is meant to be for people who really want to be creative,” Lyons said.

The major is for students interested in film, design and arts, Lyons said.

Strong Hall at the University of Kansas. Captured by Abdullah Al-Awhad.

A larger trend of decline in enrollment at KU

In fall 2017, 837 students attended the Journalism School while this number dropped to 696 students in fall 2021, according to the Journalism School

This trend correlates with the overall enrollment at KU, which has been falling consistently since 2017 as well, according to KU Enrollment Trends. In fall 2017, KU’s total enrollment was 24,891, which fell to 23,958 in fall 2021.

“Factors both within and outside KU, such as industry trends, student choices, and general awareness of opportunities within the major, can impact enrollment from year to year,” Lyons said.

The Journalism School hopes to increase its enrollment in future years, Lyons said.

Journalism enrollment in a national context

While KU’s journalism enrollment has been dropping, other universities’ journalism programs have been growing.

  • From fall 2012 to fall 2022, the University of Oklahoma’s journalism enrollment increased by 200, according to OU’s enrollment summary.
  • University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s journalism enrollment increased by nearly 50 from fall 2014 to fall 2022, according to the UNL College of Journalism and Mass Communications website.
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s journalism enrollment increased by nearly 250 from fall 2012 to fall 2022, according to the UNC School of Media and Journalism website.

Other schools have experienced consistent enrollment numbers, with slight drops compared to KU.

  • University of Missouri journalism enrollment dropped by around 3% from 2017 in 2018-19 academic year to 1977 in 2020-21, according to the Mizzou School of Journalism website and the Wayback Machine.
  • New York University journalism enrollment dropped by 5% from 260 in fall 2017 to 247 in fall 2020, according to the NYU website.

Rylie Oswald is a KU sophomore from Osage City, Kansas studying journalism and creative writing.

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