Job Market Remains Favorable

for Journalism and Mass Communications Graduates

From: AEJMC News, November 1999.

By: Lee Becker, Gerald Kosicki et al.

 

THE PERCENTAGE OF journalism and mass communication bachelor's degree recipients with at least one job available upon graduation increased significantly in 1998 and stood at its highest level since at least 1988. Similarly, the percentage of such graduates who had a full-time job six to eight months after graduation was at a record level.

Those receiving a masters degree in journalism and mass communication in 1998 also enjoyed a relatively strong labor market, with most of those wanting jobs finding them.

For the second year in a row, salaries reported by bachelor's degree recipients from journalism and mass communication programs around the country increased rather sharply. In unadjusted dollars, the median salary of bachelor's degree recipients in 1998 was $24,000-up $1,000 or 4.3% from a year earlier and up $2,500 from two years ago. In dollars adjusted for the official inflation rate, the increase was a less dramatic but still significant $400 per year.

Salaries reported by masters degree recipients also increased in 1998 over a year earlier and at a rate that exceeded inflation. On average, master's degree recipients in journalism and mass communication reported an annual income of $30,000.

These are some of the key findings of the 1998 Annual Survey of Journalism & Mass Communication Graduates, conducted each year at the University of Georgia to monitor the labor market encountered by graduates of journalism and mass communication programs in the United States, including Puerto Rico. In 1998, 2,235 bachelors degree recipients and 156 masters degree recipients from around the country reported on their experiences in the months after graduation.

Among other key findings of the 1998 Graduate Survey are the following:

- Students in journalism and Mass Communication programs remained strongly committed to professional activities in support of media careers. More than eight in 10 of all bachelor's degree recipients once again reported having held an internship in communication, and more than a third reported working for the campus newspaper.

- Eight in 10 of the 1998 graduates indicated they had sought employment with at least one of the traditional employers of journalism and mass communication graduates.

- The percentage of bachelors degree recipients with a job who selected it because it was what the graduate wanted to do has increased in 1998. Opportunities to learn and chances for advancement are among the important reasons for selecting a job for large numbers of graduates.

Job satisfaction for bachelor's degree recipients with a full-time job remained high in 1998, though it is off from its peak in 1995. Satisfaction for those with a part-time job declined.

-- Three in 10 of the bachelor's degree recipients said they wished they had prepared for another career, and another 5.5% said they never intended to go into journalism or communication in the first place. Among those who wished they had prepared for another career, two explanations stand out: low salaries in communications jobs and difficulty of finding such a job.

- Only one in 20 of the bachelors degree recipients with jobs expected to retire with the organization they were working with when they completed the survey, and only one out of five expected to retire in the current occupation.

Graduate Survey Methodology

The Annual Survey of Journalism & Mass Communication Graduates is designed to monitor the employment rates and salaries of graduates of journalism and mass communication programs in the United States, including Puerto Rico. In addition, the survey tracks the curricular activities of those graduates while in college, examines their job seeking strategies, and provides measures of their professional attitudes upon completing their college studies.

The 1998 Annual Survey of Journalism & Mass Communication Graduates was conducted at the Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia, as was true in 1997. From 1987-1996, the survey was conducted at The Ohio State University.

Each year a sample of schools is drawn from those listed in the journalism and Mass Communication Directory, published annually by the Association for Education in journalism and Mass Communication, and The journalists Road to Success: A Career and Scholarship Guide, published each year by the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund, Inc. In 1998,97 schools were drawn from the 451 unique entries of four-year programs in the U.S. (including Puerto Rico) in the two directories.

Administrators at the selected schools are asked to provide the names and addresses of their spring bachelor's and masters degree recipients. A questionnaire was mailed in November or December 1998 to all spring graduates receiving either a bachelors or a masters degree from the selected programs. A second questionnaire was sent to nonrespondents in January or February 1999. A third mailing was sent in April to graduates of schools with return rates of less than 45% after the first two mailings.

In 1998, the survey was mailed to 5,996 individuals whose names and addresses were provided by the administrators of the 97 programs. A total of 2,691 returned the questionnaires by the end of May of 1999. Of the returns, 2,391 were from students who reported they actually had completed their degrees during the April to June 1998 period. The remaining 300 had completed their degrees either before or after the specified period, despite their inclusion in the spring graduation lists. A total of 442 questionnaires was returned undelivered and without a forwarding address. Return rate, computed as the number of questionnaires returned divided by

the number mailed, was 44.9%. Return rate, computed as the number returned divided by the number mailed minus the bad addresses, was 48.5%. Of the usable questionnaires, 2,235 (93.5%) were from bachelor's degree recipients and 156 were from those who received a masters degree.

The findings summarized in this report are projectable to the estimated 33,375 students who earned bachelors degrees and the 3,630 students who earned masters degrees in academic year 1997-98 from the 451 colleges and universities across the United States and Puerto Rico offering programs in journalism and mass communication. Comparisons are made with data gathered in graduate surveys back through 1986. Data on master's degree recipients have been available only since 1990.

Employment

The percentage of journalism and mass communication bachelor's degree recipients with at least one job available upon graduation increased significantly in 1998 over a year earlier. In 1988, when the measure of jobs available upon graduation was first used in the graduate survey, only 56% of the graduates reported having at least one job offer upon graduation. That figure increased in subsequent years but dropped dramatically in the recession of the early 1990s. Among the 1998 graduates, 81.8% reported having a job offer of some sort when they left the university. The mean number of job offers was 2.2.

While not all of the graduates accept or keep those early jobs, six to eight months after graduation 75.3% of the 1998 journalism and mass communication bachelor's degree recipients reported that they held a full-time job. The figure is up dramatically from only a few years ago. The percentage of graduates with part time work-which most often is an indicator of underemployment, as few graduates seek only part-time jobs-and the percentage returning to school declined. In a strong economy, returning to school immediately upon completion of an undergraduate degree is also often a sign of a lack of success in the job market. Only the percentage of students actually reporting being unemployed increased slightly and at a level easily explained by sample fluctuation.

Nationally, the average monthly unemployment rate for 1998 was 4.5 %-its lowest level since 1969. If this represents full employment in the overall economy, as many argue it does, then the rate of 12.1% unemployment for 1998 journalism and mass communication graduates shown in Chart I may also represent full employment.

The 12.1% unemployment figure, however, is almost certainly an overestimation of unemployment among journalism and mass communication graduates. IIt includes those who are returning to school and, as a consequence, officially out of the labor force. It also includes those who report they were not looking for work at the time of the survey. The journalism and mass communication figure also is based on the conservative estimate that those who did not report their employment status in the survey were, in fact, unemployed.

The unemployment rate for the journalism and mass communication graduates was recalculated to eliminate those not seeking work as well as those not responding to the survey question asking for employment status. This recomputation puts unemployment for journalism and mass communication graduates at 5.9%. This is statistically comparable to a year earlier and just above the national unemployment rate for the total labor force but below the national unemployment rate for those 20-24 years old-the age cohort for most of the journalism and mass communication graduates. Clearly relatively small numbers of journalism and mass communication graduates seeking jobs are not finding them.

Journalism and mass communication master's degree recipients in recent years have enjoyed a slight advantage in the job market over graduates earning the bachelor's degree. The percentage reporting at least one job upon graduation in 1997 was higher for master's degree recipients than bachelors degree recipients by five points. In 1998, the reverse was true, with bachelor's degree recipients enjoying the advantage. Three quarters of the master's degree recipients had at least one job offer upon graduation. In 1997, the master's degree recipients had a full-time employment rate of 83.4%, compared with the 73.3% figure for bachelors degree recipients. In 1998, the full-time employment rates for both groups were at 75%. The estimates for the master's degree recipients are based on relatively small numbers of cases each year, so some instability in the statistics is expected. What is clear is that master's degree recipients in journalism and mass communication also enjoyed a relatively strong labor market, with most of those wanting jobs finding them.

These trends are historical ones, but the 1998 figures, particularly in advertising and public relations, are really quite dramatic. If those students not seeking work and returning to school are included in the computation, only 7.3% of the advertising and public relations graduates with bachelor's degrees would be classified as unemployed. Using the less conservative calculation procedures, these figures drop to 2.4% for advertising graduates and 3.2% for public relations graduates!

In 1998, 62.7% of the bachelors degree recipients were employed in communications when they completed the interview-a figure statistically comparable to the figure a year earlier but up rather dramatically from even a few years ago. If those who continued their schooling are eliminated from the computation, the figure jumps to 67.1%. If only those who sought communication jobs are considered, 72.0% found a communication job. The figure is nearly a percentage point higher (72.7%) if those who decided, to continue in school are eliminated. In other words, most students seeking a communication job are getting one.

In the 11 years from 1987 to 1997, journalism and mass communication bachelors degree recipients who were members of a racial or ethnic minority, on average, posted a full-time employment rate five percentage points lower than did graduates who were not minorities. Only one year-in 1998--did minority graduates show a full-time employment rate higher than that of bachelors degree recipients who were not minorities. The gap has persisted since the recession of the early 1990s and has even appeared to be widening in recent years. In 1998, however, the gap narrowed considerably, and stood at 3.6%-the smallest gap since 1993.

Women bachelor's degree recipients in journalism and mass communication have had slightly more success in the job market in the 1987 to 1997 period than have men. Across those yearn, on average, 72.6% of the female graduates reported being employed full-time six to eight months after graduation, while 69.9% of the men reported full-time employment. In 1998, the gap widened, with women 5.3 percentage points higher than men in terms of full-time employment six to eight months after graduation. A gap this large is not likely to be attributable to sample fluctuation but is more likely the result of real differences in the experiences of women and men as they seek full-time employment upon graduation.

Salaries and Benefits

Salaries reported by bachelors degree recipients from journalism and mass communication programs around the country increased rather sharply in 1998. The median salary of bachelor's degree recipients in 1998 was $24,000-$1,000 from a year earlier and up $2,500 from two years ago. In dollars adjusted for the official inflation rate, the increase was a less dramatic but still significant $400 per year. The 1998 increase allowed the median salary to exceed that paid to graduates in 1989 and to stand at its highest level-again with inflationary adjustments-since at least 1986. The 4.3% increase in salaries puts journalism graduates in the middle range of expected salary increases of 3% to 5% for all 1997-98 graduates.

Salaries reported by masters degree recipients also increased in 1998 over a year earlier and at a rate that exceeded inflationary influences. On average,masters degree recipients in journalism and mass communication reported an annual income of $30,000, or $6,000 more than their bachelor's degree recipient counterparts. Adjusted for inflation, the 1998 median salary of master's degree recipients was up $700 from a year earlier. The 1998 graduates, however, still have not matched the inflation-adjusted median salary of master's degree recipients in 1995. The peak salary for masters degree recipients was reported ted in 1990, when masters degree

recipients were first included in the annual graduate survey.

Salaries received by journalism and mass communication bachelor's degree recipients who went to work for the daily newspaper industry increased sharply from a year earlier. In inflation adjusted dollars, the salary earned by 1998 graduates was still under the 1995 peak, but up from a year earlier. Weekly newspaper salaries, which are low in comparison with those received by graduates who find jobs at dailies, increased in 1998 over a year earlier and increased at a rate above that of inflation. The salary is the highest reported by graduates who took jobs in this employment sector since at least 1987.

Radio salaries for bachelor's degree recipients also increased enough from 1997 to 1998 to represent real, inflation adjusted gains and to put 1998 salaries at their highest level since at least 1987. Salaries reported by bachelors degree recipients who found work in the television industry, however, were lower, on average than the salaries reported by the 1997 graduates. In adjusted dollars, the 1998 graduates reported a median annual salary $400 less than graduates, reported in 1987.

The median salary reported by bachelors degree recipients who took jobs in advertising grew a striking $3,000 over the salary reported by graduates a year earlier. The adjusted salary is $700 higher than the previous peak year of 1989. Salaries in public relations were not enough to match the peak year of 1988.

The median salary reported by the 24 bachelors degree recipients in the sample who took jobs in web publishing was $30,000, or $6,000 higher than for all bachelor's degree recipients. This was an increase of 9.8% over a year earlier and allowed graduates with these jobs to lead all industry segments in terms of median salaries. As in the past, graduates with jobs in newsletter and trade publications also reported salaries considerably higher than the median. Graduates with jobs in advertising, public relations and consumer magazines also had above average starting salaries. Cable television alone among the telecommunication industry segments offered a salary approaching the overall median.

The 1998 bachelors degree recipients with full-time jobs reported receiving benefits comparable to those received by 1997 graduates. About eight of 10 have basic medical plans and major medical plans paid for either in whole or in part by their employer. Prescription drug programs are paid wholly or in part for three-quarters of the graduates. Fewer than a quarter of the bachelor's degree recipients reported holding jobs that offered wholly paid or employer-subsidized child care, but the pattern is for increased offering of this benefit-as well as maternity and paternity leave-over time. On average, the 1998 bachelors degree recipients with full-time jobs were offered 4.1 wholly or partially paid benefits from the list provided them in the survey instrument, and the figure was a statistically comparable 4.0 for 1997 graduates.

Not all employers provide the same levels of benefits. The graduates working outside media companies or departments but with communication jobs had the most benefits provided to them either wholly or partially paid by their employers. Radio stations offered the fewest benefits. Benefits roughly parallel salaries, with graduates holding jobs in advertising and public relations having better than average benefits.

Concluding Comments

The view of those entering in 1998 was spectacular. The rate of full-time employment was at its highest since at least 1986. Clearly most of those who wanted a job found one. In fact, the unemployment rate for journalism and mass communication graduates appears to be at what-in modern times-should be considered full-employment. That is good news for graduates, but bad news for those trying to hire.

Probably because of the tight labor market, salaries are up. The median annual salary earned by journalism and mass communication bachelor's degree recipients increased by $1,000 in 1998 from a year earlier and $2,500 from two years ago. In both years, the salary increase beat inflation.

It is doubtful that the increase is really enough. Three of 10 of the bachelor's degree recipients said they wished they had prepared for a career other than journalism and mass communication. Those who felt this way had two explanations. One was salaries. The other was availability of a job. Many listed both, and the message may be that jobs that pay poorly are not jobs the graduates want to take. Nineteen out of 20 of the bachelor's degree recipients with jobs expected to leave that organization before retiring, and four out of five expected to leave the occupation. Can a field with so little commitment of its new employees be very sanguine about the future of its workforce?

That salaries are a problem should be clear enough. A median salary of $24,000-what the 1998 bachelors degree recipients earned-is better than what the 1997 or 1996 graduates earned, and the increases the last two years beat out inflation. But the 1998 figure is just a couple of hundred dollars above what it was in 1989 in inflation-adjusted terms, and in 1989 it wasn't much to be excited about. While a minimum wage worker earns $10,712 per year today, the average annual income for someone in private sector employment in May of 1999 was $23,750-or just below what a journalism graduate with four years of education earned. Economics and finance graduates were reported to get offers averaging $33,691 per year. Segments of the journalism and mass communication labor market offer competitive wages. Graduates taking web publishing positions reported a median salary of $30,000. As in other fields, technology-oriented positions offer the highest level of compensation.

In addition to the good news about, employment, the 1998 graduate survey offered good news about the employment experiences of minority graduates-or at least better news than was the case a year earlier. The gap between the level of full-time employment of minority graduates and of non-minority graduates decreased. On the other hand, it is shocking that such a gap has existed in the past and that one persists today-given all the discussion about the need to increase the diversity of the journalism and communication workforce. Diversity is going to increase only when minorities experience a more favorable employment situation than do those who are not minorities. That, currently, is not the case. If present trends continue, the percentage of women in communication will increase because women are being hired at a higher rate, but it is hard to imagine

how the percentage of minorities in the field is going to change.

This is a shortened version of a fuller report available at www.grady.uga.edu/annualsurveys/. The first author, Lee Becker, is director of the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research in the Henry W. Grady College of Journalism & Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. The second author, Gerald Kosicki, is an associate professor in the School of Journalism and Communication at Ohio State University. The remaining authors, Heather Hammatt, Wilson Lowrey and S. C. Shin, are graduate students at the University of Georgia.