More than 120 colleges and universities throughout the nation offer sequences in the field of public relations, and about 500+ colleges and universities offer courses specific to the field. The bulk of these courses are taught in journalism or communications departments.
The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) is a national professional organization with a network of 22,000+ professionals. By belonging to a professional group in college, prospective public relations practitioners can avail themselves of the services and advisory benefits of already practicing, first-rate professionals. There are certainly many benefits. Each student must, of course, learn the field, first academically, and then through on-the-job training. With the professional expertise that becomes readily available while in college, many pitfalls can be avoided through a formal education.
Numbers, by themselves, do not tell the full story of the popularity of public relations courses. Paul Peterson, a Professor of Communications at Ohio State University, pointed out through a survey that more students are enrolling in public relations courses than in any other area of focus within journalism or communications departments.
According to the Public Relations Society of America, one should have a college degree in order to become a public relations specialist. A good general education, augmented by specific instruction in public relations and communications, prepares one to enter this fascinating but competitive field.
PRSA spells out some additional requirements for people who are interested in entering this popular field. Needed skills include being able to work well with other people, possessing strong writing and editing skills, disseminating information, producing brochures and other types of primary communication material, attending special events such as news conferences, speaking in public, and researching and evaluating a variety of materials.
A well-known national practitioner summed up the prospects of the public relations field as follows:
“The future looks good for public relations. It's a growing field primarily because organizations realize that good, strong interrelationships among all groups—employees, shareholders, customers, government, and opinion leaders— are essential to their survival and welfare. Also, the increasing sophistication of communications technology demands increasing attention to the integrity of what is communicated, as well as how it is communicated.”
Another watershed mark for the advancement and sophistication of public relations occurred following World War II. It was then that experts in the field realized that it was becoming imperative for everybody to have specific, higher education. This boon for public relations coincided with the surge in popularity it faced on college campuses. This necessity became increasingly evident during the subsequent years.
Throughout the 1950s, during and following the Korean War, as American industry began blossoming and the need for an accompanying system of professional public relations became apparent, many independent public relations firms began expanding. This expansion followed the rising demand for services that were greatly needed to aid American corporations with marketing—through expert communication and persuasion techniques only public relations professionals could provide.
The trend continued in the United States into the 1960s and beyond, to today. But there was another phenomenon during this period that also enhanced the role of public relations. With the war in Vietnam and the Civil Rights movement, Americans from all walks of life began to emphasize the need for exact and clear communication. Also, given the fervent anti-war sentiment, coupled with wide disbelief in government policy and official statements, it was necessary for people on all sides of the issue to learn a great deal about communicating clearly—whether it was a brand or the government. Consequently, a wider network of communication specialists, especially in the public relations area, was spawned.
See the following articles for more information:
- Education of the Public Relations Practitioner
- Public Relations Fields
- Public Relations Serves Many Functions
- What a Public Relations Person Does Today