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Education of the Public Relations Practitioner

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As yet society makes no specific demands regarding education of the public relations practitioner. Anyone can call himself a public relations practitioner, and many unqualified persons do. But the world is so complex today that it is essential to have specialists with education requisite to carry out their function.

This is unfortunately not the case today. It is hoped, however, that registration and licensing will soon be required for the public relations practitioner as it is for the doctor, lawyer, accountant, and other professional people, as a protection to the public and the profession alike.

Nevertheless, the present situation does not mean that there are not many programs going on in public relations education in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.

From that first course in public relations that I gave at New York University in 1923, many courses have developed. A tendency has arisen to give courses in public relations for the most part at colleges of journalism and communications and in some schools of business administration.

Many of these courses emphasize secondary mechanics of the profession-writing skills, motion picture scripts, television scenarios, photography-instead of the fundamentals of social science that lay a groundwork for the future practitioner to understand human behavior individually and collectively. The counseling and advising elements of the profession regrettably are ignored. This is also true of extracurricular courses given by various bodies, even those sponsored by the Public Relations Society of America and the American Management Association. They place greatest emphasis on the activities of a publicity person or press agent.

Such courses will not produce the needed experts in the field of human relations. Education has proceeded as if a surgeon could be produced by merely teaching him how to use instruments instead of simultaneously teaching him about the human body.

By 1937 U.S. institutions of higher learning were offering 68 courses in public relations. In 1939 summer courses were introduced at several universities on the West Coast. I participated in such courses at Leland Stanford University, Reed College, and the University of Washington. By 1945 courses in public relations were offered at 21 universities. The New School of Social Research joined the ranks in 1946.

As of August, 1959, according to the Public Relations Society of America, 103 colleges and universities offered single courses in public relations, and two or more courses were offered a selectives in 17 institutions of higher learning; public relations was offered as a sequence (defined as a group of courses necessary to prepare a young person for a specialized career in any field) at 35 colleges and universities and as a major at 13. Five colleges and universities had public relations departments, and Boston University had a School of Public Relations (now the School of Public Communication).

The first doctorate in public relations was conferred by Columbia University in 1950. In 1958 the list of schools offering courses in public relations included 136; in 1960 it included 200. In 1978 Boston University awarded degrees to public relations majors, among them graduate degrees to more than 70 students.

Some colleges and universities invite outside practitioners to become visiting professors, as I was at the University of Hawaii in 1950. Educational institutions, increasingly aware of the importance of public relations to their own survival, have given impetus to inclusion of courses on the subject in their curricula.

Dr. Frederick H. Teahan, Vice-President of the Public Relations Society of America, has furnished us with updated statistics showing the present facilities for higher education in public relations. Extraordinary progress has been made in the past half century.

A recent study conducted by Albert Walker of Northern Illinois University, under a grant from the Foundation for Public Relations Research and Education, shows that 127 colleges and universities in the U.S. offer a single course in public relations; 34 offer at least two courses in the subject; 97 have degree programs (e.g., public relations as a major) at the B.A. level; 23 have courses at the M.A. level; and 10 give degrees at the doctoral level.

The American Council on Education for Journalism (ACEJ) has been recognized since 1940 by the National Commission on Accreditation as the official agency of schools and departments of journalism. It was joined by the Public Relations Society of America, Inc., to accredit public relations sequences in schools of journalism.

Other schools of distinction that offer instruction in public relations, according to Dr. Teahan, are those having campus chapters of the Public Relations Student Society of America. To qualify for a charter from the Public Relations Student Society of America, the institution, according to PRSA by-laws, must offer a sequence of at least two courses in public relations. The proposed student chapter must have an accredited member of the PRSA as its professional adviser. It must have an officially stated pledge of support from the local PRSA chapter or chapters. This support is given through guest lectures by practitioners, internship programs conducted by qualified counseling firms or corporate departments, and professional counsel to both teachers and students. Currently 30 faculty advisers are also PRSA members.

A college education that specializes in the social sciences is an excellent preparation for public relations. But for those for whom attendance at college is impractical, a course of reading laid out by a sound educational institution of higher learning, or attendance at the proper extension courses or at schools of general studies provide satisfactory substitutes. The manner in which you gain the knowledge to cope with the problems you will meet is less important than that you gain this knowledge. A course of reading would emphasize behavioral sciences-social sciences. That means history, sociology, economics, psychology, social psychology, political science, linguistics, semantics, cultural anthropology, and so on. The public relations practitioner should have knowledge in these fields and know how to apply that knowledge to current situations. He must understand how people act and react. And since life changes, the process of education should never stop.
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