Why do so few PR programs have research courses?

This measurement PRoponent / PRomulgator got to chatting with a number of recent (and soon-to-be) Canadian PR school grads and the subject of the extent to which research (and evaluation) is part of the formal curriculum (ie. a course unto itself) came up.  I’ve yet to confirm this, but one such student (hat tip to Ryerson student William Smith) noted that he and some colleagues, as part of a group project, had looked at how many PR diploma or post-grad certificate programs in Ontario included a formal course on research. Surprisingly few was the answer.  Among them was Ryerson’s post-grad certificate program and Sececa’s diploma program.  Whether or not this result is consistent across Canada is not clear, but I suspect that it is. 

I think one key problem is that, in Canada, PR is largely considered vocational training (not on par with, say, business) so it’s relegated to the community colleges (with the notable exception of Mount Saint Vincent) which themselves get unjustly painted with the vocational only brush.   In the U.S. however, you see undergrad, master’s and even Ph.D.’s in PR.  Bigger market, yes, but it also speaks to how it’s regarded.       

It speaks to a broader issue.  The strategist vs. tactician or technician arguement.  Which is best and which should schools be turning out?  But that’s a whole other topic I’ll leave for Gary Schlee’s Class Act blog.   

However, it’s encouraging to note that Canadian colleges are aligning with universities to bridge the gap with a variety of joint or transfer arrangements.  Humber-Guelph.  Seneca-York.  Durham-Ontario U. etc….and that universities are increasingly offering one-year, post-grad certificates (Western, Victoria etc.)  I think in the coming 5-10 years you’ll see PR education in Canada go up market.  You’ll see it pop up increasingly in universities (either on its own or as part of business training) and/or colleges will (for better or worse) demand that profs have both professional experience AND and a Ph.D. (a tall order to fill in Canada)      And, also encouraging is that we’re seeing master’s level programs such as the Syracuse (Newhouse) – MacMaster (DeGroote) masters in communications management surface.  I wish there were such a program around when I did mine

I suppose that another problem lies in that fact that one-year, post-grad certificate programs just don’t have the time to get into the topic area in any significant detail.   

Yes I am a measurement dork, so I suppose I am bias.  But having been on the practitioner side for longer than I’ve been on the research side, I can say with confidence that research training is very important.  PR folks shouldn’t necessarily be expected to do it themselves any more than they should do their own dental work, but they should at least have an appreciation for it and be intelligently conversant in it if they are to commission it and talk it up to senior management. 

Let’s remember that, generally speaking, PR is a relatively young, under (but increasingly) theorized profession that pines for professional legitimacy on par with other professions and a seat at the C-suite table.  Research and measurement is not the only answer to that but it can, IMHO, play a critical role.         

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3 responses to “Why do so few PR programs have research courses?

  1. In speaking with Gary, and based on my own experience as a PR grad from a post-grad program, there really isn’t a lot of time for, well, anything in the 8 months it takes to complete. I’d love to see more higher-education PR. The way the field is growing, we’ll soon need it more than ever.

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  3. I suspect the findings by the Ryerson students are accurate for one-year post-grad programs in Ontario. Cherry-picking for courses called Research would likely result in few hits. The same could probably be said if they were doing a search for courses called Measurement or Copy Editing.

    Am I concerned about it? Not really, and here’s why. Suggesting that the lack of discreet courses means the subjects don’t get covered isn’t necessarily the case. In our program at Centennial, research is addressed in three courses, as is Measurement (we actually have a stand-alone Copy Editing course). One-year programs for university grads cram a lot of info into a heavy course-load. There’s a limit to how much of that content can be worn on our sleeves with its own course moniker. Some colleges give research its own niche; others build it in across a spectrum of communication activity.

    That being said, I think, like you, that Masters programs and three- and four-year undergrad programs should have stand-alone courses in areas like Research and Evaluation. We need PRoponents like you, Alan, to help raise the bar.

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