A letter to students

To read a letter to students from journalism school leaders, see journalism.colorado.edu.

The University of Colorado was high on Charlie Light's college search list -- until a few months ago.

Light, a 16-year-old sophomore at Monarch High School, wants to study journalism. It's a field he's been fascinated with since he was a kid circulating a self-published newspaper in his neighborhood that featured movie reviews and interviews with his neighbors.

CU-Boulder is near his family's Louisville home; he'd pay in-state tuition at the flagship school; and his father, an attorney, graduated from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication in the mid-1980s.

But the university's proposal that journalism no longer be a standalone degree after the fall of 2012 -- a change that would pre-date Light's arrival as a college freshman -- has caused the teenager to look elsewhere. He's also concerned about the possible closure of the traditional journalism school and is now leaning toward Colorado State University, where he attended a "journalism day" to learn more about the school's program.

Journalism education at CU-Boulder is going through major changes: President Bruce Benson and the regents will need to determine whether they'll act on the campus leaders' recommendation that the School of Journalism Mass Communication be shut down.

The school last week announced a proposed transition plan called "Journalism-Plus." After fall 2012, students won't be able to earn a bachelor's degree only in journalism. Instead, they'll need to pursue a double major, while majors in other subjects can add a minor or certificate in journalism.

Current journalism students will be able to complete their degrees. Pre-journalism majors and incoming freshmen will still be able to earn degrees, but must give CU flexibility in determining their curriculum.

Jordan Hohlfelder, news editor for The Owl student newspaper at Boulder High School, chats with Lani Murtes, staff writer, about a story she is writing
Jordan Hohlfelder, news editor for The Owl student newspaper at Boulder High School, chats with Lani Murtes, staff writer, about a story she is writing during their journalism class on Friday. Back left, Schuyler Wright and Benn Myers work on the next edition. The University of Colorado was one of three schools that Hohlfelder applied to, but sheĆ¢ ll be attending Syracuse University. She said the uncertainty of a journalism education at CU is partly why she crossed the Boulder campus off her list. ( PAUL AIKEN )

There are 682 pre-journalism students at CU who would need to be flexible with the curriculum should they continue on the degree track. Three months ago, there were 706 students.

CU officials say the changes will strengthen journalism education on the campus. A faculty committee last week presented a report that suggests CU create a school or college of information, communication and media technology as well as an Institute for the Global Digital Future.

But the immediate uncertainty surrounding journalism education at CU is causing some high-schoolers -- and even "pre-journalism" majors who have not yet been admitted to the school -- to re-think CU. And, other colleges are recruiting aspiring journalists from Boulder.

"CU had seemed like a perfect fit for me," said Light.

Though he's interested in studying business and history, too, he said he wants the option to major solely in journalism.

Hofstra University, a private college in Long Island, N.Y., is interested in recruiting future journalists from CU. Of the school's 1,125 undergraduates enrolled in the School of Communication, 300 are journalism majors.

"We've been monitoring the story in Colorado and we want to make sure that students know they can get a top-of-the line education in this field and we think that journalism is a viable degree," said Marc Oppenheim, senior assistant dean in the School of Communication at Hofstra University.

CU officials say that the proposed changes could bolster journalism education -- training students to be well-rounded and ultimately better understand the topics they'll cover.

CU spokesman Bronson Hilliard, a former editor of the Colorado Daily, said complaints about journalism often focus on reporters' inability to give context to the issues they write about or broadcast. That could improve, he said, under CU's proposed structure -- take for example a student interested in a foreign correspondent position who declares international affairs as a major, learns a second language and earns a minor in journalism.

"We are mindful of what the possible impact could be on admissions," Hilliard said. "It's always a risk when you make any structural changes that some people won't like the structure and move on. But what we think works about this is all of the marvelous possibilities that could be created."

Stephen Jones, assistant dean of the journalism school, has said the changes, including the double major requirement, have the potential to give students an edge in the job market.

CU Provost Russell Moore said that the university is not abandoning journalism education -- but rather enhancing it through the "Journalism-Plus" program.

"We're not terribly concerned that there will be a mass exodus from these programs," Moore said.

Pre-journalism students can continue to be enrolled but will be notified that "they will be able to acquire an education in journalism while leaving us maximum flexibility as to its content," according to the Journalism-Plus program.

Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, said incoming students deserve to know specifics about the degree programs they enroll in -- including the inventory of courses available and academic requirements and plans for the program.

Otherwise, he said, it's like writing a "blank check" -- and CU promising that they'll receive a good education isn't enough.

"It's bad enough the students don't know the curriculum, and worse yet that the school doesn't," he said.

CU freshman Samantha Winsor, of Lakewood, said she was set on coming to CU-Boulder for a journalism degree since the beginning of high school. Even though she'll be able to complete her degree in broadcast news, she has reservations about what it will mean for the value of her degree.

"It's kind of scary to think we're the last group of students who can graduate with a degree in journalism," she said.

Winsor is considering transferring to an out-of-state school to finish her degree.

Boulder High senior Jordan Hohlfelder -- news editor for the school's student publication "The Owl" -- applied to CU, a campus that backs up to her high school.

A traditional journalism school with a standalone degree program is a high priority for her as she mulled her college choices. She said she has wanted to go into journalism since she was 10 years old. She's influenced partly by an album her family keeps of columns written by her grandfather, Bill Jordan, who was the Camera's editorial page editor from 1981 to 1990.

"Other than in-state tuition and the beautiful scenery, (CU) doesn't have much to offer in comparison to other colleges with journalism schools," she said.

Instead, she plans to accept an admissions offer at Syracuse University in New York. There, the Newhouse School of Public Communications offers a newspaper and online journalism degree.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Brittany Anas at 303-473-1132 or anasb@dailycamera.com.