Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Preview of JIMC essay

For 20 years the Journal of Integrated Marketing Communications has been the policy, strategy and tactics voice of the Medill School’s Department of Integrated Marketing Communications. The JIMC has been supported by thousands of hours of volunteer time by IMC students and nearly 200 authors to produce its annual content. It has also been supported by more than 500 graduate students who raised more than a quarter of million dollars to fund 90% of the cost of the Journal’s publication. Over the last two decades, the distribution and readership have grown to a total of nearly eighty thousand.

IMC faculty are strengthening the communications standards of graduate (and now undergraduate) IMC education at Northwestern. The core graduate classes such as marketing are requiring that the graduate student be as strong in rigorous research methods (statistically analytical as well as ethnographically precise) as they are in persuasively communicating the results or interpretation of the research.

With this celebration comes a warning that the cost of graduate professional education may be exceeding its value and benefit to some students. My concern is not as a naysayer but as a professor concerned that the rapidly increasing tuition and total costs of graduate education are rapidly exceeding the value to the student of earning an advanced degree in management, journalism, law, education, IMC and other fields.

Of course the decision of the value of earning an advanced degree belongs to the student - not to the school. However, some schools need to reexamine the marginal costs of earning a degree from their programs. A recent article in The Economist (October 17th 2009) noted that, for the elite school MBA, “(t)he long term benefits sound substantial…But the short-term costs are also weighty.” The Economist concludes that “on balance, the benefits probably outweigh the cost, particularly in straitened times”. What The Economist surprisingly missed is even a rudimentary effort to help a student decision-maker to calculate the short-term and lifetime costs and benefits of an advanced degree. Ironically,the same skills to calculate the ROI are taught to our IMC students and many MBA students. However the corporate teaching does not offer a personal tool or widget for a student to “run the numbers”. I will quote a new graduate professional student from a midwestern public school that I spoke with recently. After I asked him if he had calculated the cost and value of his degree, he responded, “No, I assumed that a prestigious university and school would not offer a degree that was not economically viable”. His comment cut to the quick.

We should be terribly concerned for the future of colleges and universities that are either private or “pubvate” (historically public state universities embarrassingly nearly unfunded by state taxpayer dollars). The cost of education at a 6% increase for many years for my grandchildren or your children may well exceed any rational logic of earning an advanced degree or, even more frighteningly, an undergraduate degree. The necessary formula for a student to make an informed decision is on this blog as a “return-on-investment calculator. Of course educators and economists have long demonstrated the long-term value of graduate education. However, I don’t believe these generalized models are specific enough to permit a student to estimate the actual and expected costs for their decision. My colleague Jim Carey and I offer the interactive tool with the hope that students will find it useful to make a specific decision about a full-time or part-time advanced degree.

My confidence in the next generation is often stronger than my confidence in my own generation of educators and leaders who seem so dutifully wedded to the past trappings of higher education. We seem to still see the Gothic towers, large, tiered lecture halls, book driven libraries, full-time degrees, country club campuses, entertainment, upscale living units, restaurants and super sports for alumni as core purposes of an antiquated educational model.

I should probably leave my concerns to the next generation of university students, leaders and faculty in hopes that they will consider more part-time degrees, challenging digital distance learning and other learning and delivery systems. However, I don’t want to be worrying about this topic when I author the publisher’s essay for the JIMC’s 40th anniversary edition. Finally, for 2009 and 2010, please follow my best advice: Hire my students!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Teaching communications in MBA programs may be moot

Reference to debate over more PR being taught in MBA programs at

This is one of the longest discussions we have had on the evergreen topic. Given the economic realities of the market and the cost of education; I will argue that we may be too late to even include communications in business schools. First, I have some history for you.

Our A.W. Page B-School Committee has debated the topic for over a decade with all the frustrations demonstrated above. At a personal level most of you know that I moved from teaching at the Business School at Wisconsin-Madison to the Medill School of Journalism. With a joint doctorate in Business Management and in Journalism Mass Communications (PR and Advertising and similar joint undergraduate work), I was recruited to teach graduate PR, marketing and management. Our goal was to create the new Integrated Marketing Communications program in response to chaos in the industry and in Schools of Journalism and Communications. We knew that we could offer the best of a business management degree since we had been on the campus long before Kellogg and could make an agreement to use communications as the strategic field of study. We received a great deal of valued publicity when our work was attacked by the biggest academic names in Communications and PR for “getting in bed with marketing”.

We have not looked back since that time and have given students tremendous opportunities to use communications as a strategic advantage in business and complex organizations. Our agreement with the Kellogg School of Management (including joint appointments for IMC faculty there and in Engineering) have given our students a competitive advantage. Our students are “terminal degree” candidates with business and political experience like MBAs who don’t want to use the masters as a pre-doctoral degree. At Medill IMC we now offer a program for undergraduates in IMC with PR since Kellogg does not have an undergraduate degree (they have a very small certificate program for some undergrads).

However, in the business schools and other professional schools; the issue has dramatically changed. The private schools may face the issue of “return-on-investment” for a professional graduate degree not being worth the risk. Even the “pubvate” schools (a term for public schools that are no longer substantially supported by state aid) are raising tuition and fees more rapidly than the private schools. The issue is compounded the failure of state taxpayers and legislators to support higher education but to still muddle in the work of the university. For example, only 20% of the support for the University of Ilinois-Urbana is from state funding. The private schools like Northwestern consider all pubvates direct competitors for federal money, grants, alumni dollars, tuition. At many private schools and increasing numbers of pubvates tuition costs for an MBA or IMC degree exceed a reasonable payback period. I am developing a website “widget” for students to calculate before returning to school the real costs and benefits of a professional graduate degree. The breakeven point on the degree can be over a decade which means that many students may never pay back the degree costs from their career income. They also still have loans outstanding from their undergraduate work which I do not challenge with the ROI message. While education has some non-fiscal values, we are asking the same questions that allowed the preparation of economic impact and social impact statements on national and state legislation. My preliminary conclusions are that the only business related graduate degree that has a potentially positive ROI is a part-time degree that allows the student to work and avoid the opportunity costs of leaving their income producing job.

We can worry about communications being a critical function in business (and I agree) but the key issues are whether your companies will 1. support education and training for your employees, 2. how students can repay outrageous business degree costs (compared to your degree costs many years ago), 3. support higher wages for professional degree holder from MBA and IMC programs to get the talent you want, 4. support extensive research (not just case studies) on the real value of communications in business decision-making, crisis management, political risks to business, etc.

By Clarke L. Caywood, Ph.D. on October, 02 2009