The Digital Media & Professional Communication program is designed to equip students with a wide variety of communication skills desired by employers.
With technology in today's day and age constantly being introduced and improved at seemingly breakneck speed, communication has gone well beyond the perceived norms of written and verbal.
Communication in all forms is constantly evolving, and with younger generations driving not only the forms of communication but also how they change, those teaching communication skills must evolve as well.
Recognizing this, the College of Media & Communication at Texas Tech University debuted a new degree program in the fall while also bringing in faculty from a different college to better fulfill communications requirements for business students.
"It was just not feasible to give all of that to an existing area of specialization," said David D. Perlmutter, dean of the College of Media & Communication. "So we agreed we needed to start a new department focused basically on professional communication and its different aspects. We think this is a great opportunity. I think the degree is going to explode in enrollment because there is an unmet need of students, especially today's students, for this do-it-yourself, pick-your-own generation. This will be the ultimate option where you have this tasting menu of communication."
The new bachelor's degree, Digital Media & Professional Communication, is geared toward students who are not yet ready to commit to one particular area of communication, but provides students a custom-designed specialization geared toward their communication interests.
"Communication is more important than ever and this new program will provide students with the cross disciplinary experience they will need to succeed in the modern workforce," said Mark Sheridan, dean of the Graduate School. "The College of Media & Communication has been an innovator in developing and delivering communication curricula and programs and this collaborative effort is an example of that innovation."
Professor Kelli Cargile Cook, a faculty member at Texas Tech since 2009, is the chair of the new department responsible for bringing together faculty from other areas of Media & Communication as well as several faculty members from the Jerry S. Rawls College of Business who have transferred their appointment. The department also includes two faculty members from the Texas Tech regional campus in Waco.
Cargile Cook said having trained communication professionals with a wide variety of knowledge is crucial in today's world.
"Few professional organizations today can function without a media presence," Cargile Cook said. "All organizations employ internal and external communication channels. Our goal is to produce graduates who can provide guidance and support to organizations, whatever their media and communication needs are. Our department will produce communicators who are cross-trained, multi-tasking professionals who can work across media in both corporate and small-business settings."
Cargile Cook said the new concentration is not meant to take the place of any of the existing degree programs in the college. Instead, it is designed to give students the skills needed in an ever-changing job market to best suit what employers are looking for while providing the skills necessary to compete and succeed.
"What our department and its degrees will do is recognize that some communicators' work requires working across the disciplines of advertising, communication studies, journalism and creative industries, and public relations," Cargile Cook said. "It is our hope and our goal to provide undergraduate students with experiences that prepare them for industry needs requiring this kind of cross-disciplinary communication work.
"As a department, we have the opportunity to take a leadership role in how such an education is offered in the State of Texas."
A new degree program and department aren't the only changes the college is experiencing.
Faculty and student growth
While the new degree program has increased the size of the faculty in the College of Media & Communication, the faculty already in place was setting some high-water marks.
For fall 2018, the college employed 75 full-time faculty members with a one-year retention rate of 91 percent, better than the overall university faculty retention rate of 85 percent. Perlmutter said the college also ranks No. 34 on the Shanghai Global Academic Index, a global ranking system that rates selected academic disciplines within a university.
"A ranking reflects the external quantification of the criteria that constitute a ranking," said Darryl James, vice provost for institutional effectiveness for Texas Tech. "Any time a program is recognized by a prominent external entity for its excellence, particularly on a global scale, Texas Tech wins. The ranking of 34th reflects the achievements of the students, faculty and staff who are part of the College of Media & Communication."
Undergraduate fall enrollment in the college has been on a steady rise, going from 1,330 students in 2014 to 2,096 students in 2018. The 2018 number is also a 13 percent increase from 2017 and a 55 percent increase over the last five years. Graduate enrollment also has increased by 17.7 percent from 2017 to 2018 and by almost 176 percent over the last five years.
Having a ranking as prestigious as the Shanghai Index is expected to help attract more students to the college, Perlmutter said, while also showing that the college is producing graduates ready to tackle myriad communication challenges with new skills needed in today's world.
At the same time, the college will remain true to its core mission of producing effective storytellers.
"Where we are now, there are hundreds of new careers in communications that didn't exist 10 years ago," Perlmutter said. "Our students are going to have many careers, and they are going to go back and forth between industries. They're going to go work for Southwest Airlines and take those same skills and go work for a news organization, then take those same skills and go work for Pixar, then go work for a bank or non profit. They will carry those skills with them, which is what companies need nowadays."
The change in communications strategies in the private sector has also forced academics to consider how they are teaching those skills. That requires some learning and retraining of instructors and professors to best meet those communication educational challenges, and Perlmutter said he has seen his faculty members embrace those changes wholeheartedly.
"We will always be demanding teachers of speech and writing because the marketplace, the country and industries all still need and appreciate someone who can write and speak clearly and persuasively," Perlmutter said. "We're still going to teach the same skills of 1950 here that are still important – listening, finding the information, deciding whether it is true or not, then deploying that information – telling stories – for heterogeneous audiences who may not be experts themselves.
"But we've added the latest and greatest, all the new world of social media and analytics and sophisticated interaction that's going on. We are emphasizing even more research as an educational component that will help their careers. We tell parents that we are giving their child a large package of goods that they are going to master, build on, even change, and it's going to help them competitively, no matter what they do."
The vision of Media & Communication
When it comes to future initiatives in the College of Media & Communication, Perlmutter has one simple litmus test – sustainability.
There is no sense in starting something that is going to collapse under its own weight, he said. Sustainability is the key, whether it requires starting slowly on a project or even cutting back on it once it is up and running, and especially making sure everything necessary to the project's success is in place before starting.
"That is a continuous cycle for a college, for administrators, for faculty and for staff to always be calibrating – what we are doing, what we should be doing, how can we keep it moving forward. Sustainability makes it all possible in the long run, not just in the short run," Perlmutter said.
Part of that calibration for the College of Media & Communication is adherence to its two classes of goals – core and signature.
For Perlmutter, core goals are the ones that must be accomplished every day and are not optional. They are the things that the college, and most others across the U.S., pay attention to on a daily basis – sustain growth in enrollment; ensure transparency, rigor and ethics in research; contribute locally and globally; and meet industry demands, just to name a few.
Signature goals are the ones that distinguish the College of Media & Communication from other colleges, both on campus and at other universities worldwide. Those initiatives include incorporating new departments, units or programs, such as the new Digital Media & Professional Communication program, Hispanic and international media, distance and regional campus offerings, and teaching and research partnerships.
"It's my job to advocate and make sure our achievements are matched by our resources that support those achievements for today and tomorrow," Perlmutter said.