Image courtesy of Media Studies Department
By Jessica Fetrow
The Catholic University Department of Media and Communication Studies has seen a steady increase in enrollment in recent years, increasing by over 33% since the Fall 2017 semester, according to the university’s Office of Enrollment Services.
According to the Office of Enrollment Services, the total number of students enrolled in the major reached 109 students during the Fall 2020 semester. This number has gradually increased since the Fall 2017 semester, when enrollment reached 80 students. The department saw its most significant rise from the Fall 2018 semester to the Fall 2019 semester, increasing by over 27%.
The department, which was established at the university in 1993, offers both critical studies and production tracks within the major, as well as minors in both media studies and writing and rhetoric, and a certificate in video production and digital storytelling.
According to Chasity Cooper, academic specialist for media studies, the university’s Office of Enrollment Services is unable to accurately account for the total number of students enrolled in the department’s minor and certificate programs due to the lack of data collected in Cardinal Station, the university’s page for enterprise resource planning and other administrative functions.
Although the department has seen a steady increase in enrollment, Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Department of Media and Communication Studies Dr. Alexander T. Russo claims that these numbers are still not what they were about ten years ago.
“I think that there was a point in which we had bottomed out a little bit, but in the past couple of years, we’re back,” Russo said. “We’ve also picked up a lot of minors, and the new curriculum has been really beneficial to us.”
According to Russo, the university’s decision to allow MDIA 201: Intro to Media and Communication Studies and MDIA 202: Media and History courses to apply toward foundational course credits for the fine arts, history, and politics majors increased the interest of students that otherwise would not have interacted with the department.
“Even if majoring in media studies is a bridge too far from what they think they want to do, the fact that media touches so many different areas means that a lot of people are seeing it as a great minor,” Russo said.
Russo also attributes the high amount of students that transfer into the major, as well as the major’s high retention rate, as a contributing factor towards the department’s growth.
“I joined the media and communication department after my first semester at Catholic,” said junior media and communication studies major Noelia Veras. “I initially came to Catholic as a psychology major, but once I began to interact with the media department on campus and become involved in other media organizations, I knew that was what I was meant to be doing. It develops critical thinking skills like no other department on campus, in my opinion.”
Additional improvements to the department include the recent addition of Glenn Anderson, who joined the media and communication studies department in August 2020, as a full-time production professor.
“We were lucky to get Glenn Anderson as a full-time production professor, which we didn’t have for a couple of years. That was a big gap in our curriculum because we stress both the critical studies and production tracks of our major,” said Dr. Niki Akhavan, chair of the media and communication studies department.
Akhavan also attributes the flexibility and adaptability of the major as a contributing factor to the recent success of the department.
“In terms of a skill set, I can’t think of a better skill set to have in today’s world than the ones that we provide,” Akhavan said. “I think that the rapid development of the field is in itself an argument for why students should study media studies. When you study media studies, you are able to both make sense of the world and make meaningful media for that same world.”
According to both Akhavan and Russo, the greatest concern in maintaining this increase stems from the overall decrease in enrollment in the university.
“We’ve luckily been steady in terms of our enrollment, but there is a worry as overall enrollment has gone down,” Akhavan said. “There’s been a challenge to get students to enroll overall. There is a concern that this will ultimately impact our enrollment.”
Akhavan also expressed concern about an overall lack of full-time faculty within the department.
“We’re currently at a deficit of three full-time professors, which is very troubling to me as the chair,” Akhavan said. “There are certain things that we promise our students, such as small class sizes and one-on-one attention, which to the credit of our existing faculty we’ve been for a large part able to meet those promises. But when you’re constantly spread so thin, obviously some things are going to have to give.”
Akhavan attributes this faculty loss to faculty moving to other programs or universities that offer doctoral degrees in the media fields, as well as a lack of university funding for position renewal. This concern originates back to the academic renewal proposal by the Office of the Provost in 2018 that was expected to merge the media and communication studies department with the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music, Drama, and Art, resulting in the potential elimination of faculty. The proposal was later revised to remove the media and communication studies department from the proposal following significant backlash from faculty and students.
Due to the growing success of the department at Catholic University, Akhavan said that there are tentative plans to create a specialized media and communication studies master’s program at the university.
“We’re hoping to take advantage of our Washington, D.C. location and actually make official partnerships with certain media companies, channels, or institutions that can then cycle our students with these programs,” Akhavan said. “It would absolutely help with, if not a job waiting for you at the end, a resume that shows you’ve done on-the-ground work with your degree.”
For Veras, the media and communication studies department contributed to her ability to grow as both a student and a professional.
“I think that the media department steered me in the right direction both professionally and personally,” Veras said. “The department encouraged me to do everything that I loved and to have the incentive to do it, like providing me with great internships and resume-building opportunities. There’s truly no other department in Catholic like the media department.”