The decision was made almost a year ago, but I just learned that my alma mater, the mighty University of Central Missouri, is phasing out its undergraduate journalism degree program. The reason is completely valid: Under orders from higher authorities, all of Missouri’s state institutions have been ordered to identify and phase out programs that fail to produce at least 10 graduates a year over a three-year period. At UCM, journalism was one of 10 undgrad majors that didn’t make the cut.
Regional university journalism programs always have been of questionable importance in Missouri. After all, the University of Missouri has one of the best programs in the country (“THE best program in the country,” Mizzou grads will tell you ad nauseum). But there is a simple reason why I chose UCM over Mizzou: It cost half as much to attend and it already was an enormous financial burden on my family to send me to college. In addition, UCM was willing to give me an entire year of advanced placement test credit, while Mizzou would only spring for a semester.
The difference in price and time would have cost my family about $40,000 in today’s dollars, according to my very rough back-of-the-hand calculations. My family did not even remotely have that kind of money to spend on my college education; my grades were decent but not enough to swing some heavy-duty scholarship money; finally, there was no way in hell I was going to go into student loan debt on a journalist’s salary (my first journalism job paid about $21,000/year in *today’s* dollars). I looked around at the regional state universities and UCM had the best program, so that’s where I went.
As I recall, when I was a freshman, there were about 40 print journalism majors in my class. Of those, perhaps a dozen graduated and only four or five actually went to work in the news media. I believe I was the only one to make it to a metro paper. And of course, the whole online world in which I now work had not even been imagined yet, much less invented.
I always felt that I got a perfectly good education at UCM, although a year in the professional world taught me more than I learned in college (a development that is almost always true in a craft like journalism). It makes me sad that my degree program is drying up and going away at my alma mater, but I truly understand why this has happened.