Dean Ed Wasserman (photo: UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism)
In May 2011, Justin Cox wrote at Huffington Post of his advice to a friend considering a two-year master’s degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley. Although Cox worried that “dumping up to $80,000 into an education that won't come close to paying off financially for a really long time” might not be the best career choice, he ultimately recommended the friend go for it.
It might be time to revisit that assessment.
A couple of weeks ago, media critic Jim Romenesko highlighted an open letter from Ed Wasserman, dean of UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, to the J-school community, that proposed charging his students a supplemental annual fee of $10,250. That is a 65% increase in the $15,801.50 in-state students now pay. Out-of-staters and foreign students already pay $31,083.50.
“The additional cost burden the PDST will impose on our students is not insubstantial. But it is not insurmountable either,” Wasserman wrote. Those are bold words from the man who will not have to figure out how to surmount that cost burden. The school, however, did offer to mitigate it by steering a third of the tuition increase to fellowships.
Wasserman gave a little history. Back in 2003, the UC Regents let a bunch of professional graduate schools across the system start charging students Professional Degree Supplemental Tuition (PDST) on top off the regular tuition. The student might not take note of the distinction, but individual schools don’t have to share PDST money with the university.
J-school and a few others never got in on the fun, and there has been a de facto freeze on PDST increases for a few years. But the university recently announced it is entertaining PDST requests again. This would be the first time, so Wasserman went for all the money.
J-school students are obviously not the only kids being whipsawed by the skyrocketing price of education and diminishing returns in the job market. But few industries have been whacked as badly by changing technology as publishing, and newspapers in particular.
Mara Van Ells, a first-year student at Berkeley, told Kaitlin Mulhere at Inside Higher Ed, “We’re here because we care about social justice, and we want to tell good stories. We’re not necessarily going to make a lot of money when we graduate, especially in today’s market.” That market has replaced a lot of decently-paid newsroom employees with contract workers sans benefits, interns and the people competing against them for a job.
Wasserman acknowledged that around 73% of students borrow money to pay for their J-school education. “We estimate that worst case, their average debt repayment on a 10-year loan would rise by $152 per month.”
That might be surmountable if journalism jobs didn’t pay crap in an industry that has been collapsing in on itself while stumbling around for a business model that embraces digital publishing even while much-diminished print continues to pay the bills. But it is probably less than what their parents will charge them to live in the basement if they don’t find jobs for lack of a graduate degree.
The UC Regents are expected to make a decision about Wasserman’s proposal Thursday.