U.S. college journalism growth trends, 2012–19 (Part 2)

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Go west (and south), young journalist!

In a previous post, I examined general trends in the number of journalism degrees awarded by U.S. higher education institutions for 2012 to 2019, including variations between public vs. private and 4-year vs. 2-year programs. In this post, I uncover state and regional trends, using the dataset compiled by researchers from Deloitte/Datawheel at the Data USA Journalism site. The dataset lists each U.S. postsecondary institution offering a journalism program coded as 09.0401 (Journalism) in the National Center for Education Statistics’ Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) system, along with its number of journalism degree completions (the number of degrees earned) for each year. More information about the methodology and some limitations of the data are contained in the original post. In particular, because the dataset includes only journalism programs with the Journalism CIP code, it omits any journalism programs coded in a different category, such as Mass Communication/Media Studies.

For this post, I combined the Data USA/NCES data with additional state and regional data, including state population and postsecondary enrollment numbers. The data were imported into a database using Glitch and Datasette, and SQL (Structured Query Language) was used for data analysis. The main dataset is available at this link. I used Datawrapper to create charts and maps and SPSS statistical software to run correlation tests.

Overall state and regional patterns

I categorized the U.S. higher education institutions with programs in the CIP Journalism code according to the four geographic regions defined by the Census Bureau: Northeast, South, Midwest, and West. (The list of regions and the states within each one is available from the Census Bureau in spreadsheet format. I used the VLOOKUP function in Microsoft Excel to find and record the appropriate region for each college or university.) The Midwest region had the greatest number of completed journalism degrees from 2012 to 2019, with 35,243 degrees (31.1% of the national total), followed by the South (30.2%), Northeast (19.5%), and West (19.2%). The SQL code and data analysis can be found here. (Note: It might take several seconds for the data to load.)

Many of the nation’s largest and most prestigious journalism schools are located in the Midwest. As noted previously, the University of Missouri, Northwestern University, the University of Minnesota, the University of Kansas, and Indiana University awarded the largest numbers of journalism degrees during the eight-year period.

Next, I analyzed the data at the state level. Which individual states had the most journalism degree completions from 2012 to 2019? California topped the list with 10,531 degree completions in its collegiate journalism programs, followed by New York at 8,946 and Texas at 7,142. These figures are not surprising, given that all three states are heavily populated and are home to numerous institutions of higher learning.

However, a wide swath of states, extending from lower New England (Massachusetts) and the mid-Atlantic (New York and Pennsylvania) westward through the heartland (Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, and Colorado), also had 3,000 or more journalism degree completions during the eight-year period. (SQL code and full list of total degrees by state)

States with the smallest number of completed journalism degrees tended to cluster near the Rocky Mountains (Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, and South Dakota), the Southeast (Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Louisiana) and upper New England (Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont). Many of these states are sparsely populated with fewer colleges and universities, which probably helps explain the smaller numbers. But population and enrollment may not provide a full explanation, as will be discussed below.

State and regional shifts over time

If the Midwest region led the pack in number of journalism degrees awarded from 2012 to 2019, changes from year to year paint a somewhat different picture, showing a gradual geographic shift in postsecondary U.S. journalism education. The Midwest’s dominance is beginning to fade as some journalism programs in the West and South gain in popularity. The Midwest region was overtaken by the South beginning in 2017. And the Northeast was overtaken by the West beginning in 2016.

Of the four geographic regions, only the West saw an overall increase in journalism degrees during the eight-year period — an 8.7% gain from 2,525 in 2012 to 2,744 in 2019 — despite slight drops in 2018 and 2019. Meanwhile, the South saw a slight decline — a 5.6% drop from 4,374 to 4,127.

By contrast, the Midwest and Northeast both witnessed significant declines during the eight years: 24.0% for the Northeast and 22.6% for the Midwest. The Midwest’s numbers dropped every year, except for an uptick in 2014, while the Northeast saw slight upticks in 2013 and 2017. (SQL code)

To examine trends over time at the state level, I compared the number of degree completions by state in 2012 and 2019 (SQL code and full list for 2012, SQL code and full list for 2019) and calculated the percentage change for each state. Six states saw journalism degrees increase by more than 30% from 2012 to 2019: 3 states in the South (North Carolina, Georgia, and Louisiana) and 3 in the West (California, Nevada, and Washington). North Carolina saw the biggest percentage increase — a 177.8% rise from 27 degrees in 2012 to 75 degrees in 2019.

Conversely, 15 states recorded at least 30% fewer journalism degree completions in 2019 than in 2012 — most of them clustered in New England, the Midwest, and the Rocky Mountain area.

Thus, while the West is seeing growth in its college journalism programs, the growth appears to be occurring mostly among the coastal states, not the mountain states. Meanwhile, pockets of growth in the South are confined mostly to the Southeast states, rather than states such as Texas and Oklahoma.

Next, I determined which year from 2012 to 2019 was the peak year for each state, based on the number of journalism degrees completed. Because the overall national trend among college journalism programs was fewer degrees over time, it is not surprising that half the states saw their highest number of journalism degree completions within the first two years in the dataset — 17 states peaked in 2012 and 8 states in 2013. Only 6 states hit their peak in 2019: 3 in the West (California, Washington, and Nevada) and 3 in the South (Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina). (SQL code and full list)

The data analysis underscores the stark differences between overall raw totals vs. percentage changes over time. North Carolina, for example, saw a staggering 177.8% increase in journalism degrees from 2012 to 2019, making it the top growth state for college journalism programs, but its total of only 383 degrees for the eight-year period places the state toward the bottom in total degrees. Colorado, on the other hand, saw a disappointing 58.3% drop in journalism degrees between 2012 and 2019, but the colleges and universities in the state still awarded 220 journalism degrees in 2019 and 3,578 degrees during the eight years overall; thus, Colorado ranked 11th overall in total degrees.

Put another way, many of the gains have been in small journalism programs that are growing rapidly but still quite small, while many of the declines have been in larger programs that are shrinking but still quite large. Nevertheless, the changes point to the possibility of significant changes in the collegiate journalism landscape in the years ahead.

Answering the ‘why’ question: Population, enrollment data

The journalism degree completion data from the National Center for Education Statistics and the Data USA website show that some U.S. college journalism programs have grown in recent years, even as a large majority have not, and the data reveal differences at the state and regional levels, but they do provide explanations.

Why are most journalism programs, particularly in the Midwest and Northeast, experiencing declines while several on the West Coast and in the Southeast are reporting gains? The answers might have something to do with the structure and quality of the programs or the changing nature of journalism itself, but it is likely that larger forces not directly related to journalism or journalism education also are at play.

Demographic trends and overall higher education enrollment would seem to be obvious contributing factors. More populous states and regions would tend to have more colleges and universities, thus greater enrollment, including more journalism students. As states and regions see their populations grow or shrink, corresponding increases or decreases in college enrollment, including journalism program enrollment (and journalism degrees), could be expected.

To put these assumptions to the test, I downloaded estimated state population figures for 2012 and 2019 from the Census Bureau website and state enrollment totals for degree-granting postsecondary institutions in 2012 and 2019 from the National Center for Education Statistics. I combined this data with the existing 2012 and 2019 journalism degree data. I calculated the percentage change in population and college enrollment from 2012 to 2019 for each state and the District of Columbia. The data are available in spreadsheet form. Next, I used SPSS Statistics software to run Pearson correlation tests measuring the strength of the relationships between variables.

The tests confirmed a very strong correlation between a state’s number of journalism degree completions and the state’s population. Journalism degree completions in 2012 were highly correlated with the estimated 2012 population among the 50 states and District of Columbia (r = .74, p < .001, df = 49). Also, 2019 degree completions were highly correlated with 2019 population (r = .85, p < .001, df = 49). In other words, as expected, highly populated states tend to yield more journalism degrees and sparsely populated states, fewer journalism degrees.

A similar relationship was observed between journalism degrees and postsecondary enrollment. Degree completions in 2012 were highly correlated with 2012 total postsecondary enrollment among the 50 states and District of Columbia (r = .75, p < .001, df = 49). And 2019 degree completions were highly correlated with 2019 postsecondary enrollment (r = .87, p < .001, df = 49). Thus, as expected, states with more enrolled college and university students overall tend to graduate more journalism students.

Of greater interest, however, is whether the differences in the number of degrees between 2012 and 2019 correlate with changes in population and college enrollment. In other words, do increases or decreases in a state’s number of journalism degrees correspond with fluctuations in the state’s population or total postsecondary enrollment? Here, the correlation coefficients were quite weak. The correlation between the percentage difference in degrees between 2012 and 2019 and the percentage difference in population during the same period was not statistically significant among the states and District of Columbia (r = .22, p = .14, df = 47). Nor was the correlation between the difference in degrees and the difference in postsecondary enrollment statistically significant (r = -.13, p = .37, df = 47).

Trends in college enrollment and state population alone do not sufficiently explain the growth or decline of college journalism programs. For example, New Hampshire saw a 72.2% drop in completed journalism degrees from 2012 to 2019 while the state’s total postsecondary enrollment grew by 104.8% and its population grew by 2.7%. Louisiana’s journalism degrees increased by 46.4% from 2012 to 2019 while its total postsecondary enrollment fell by 5.8% and its population shrunk by 1.0%. To fully understand the reasons behind the changes in the postsecondary journalism education landscape, more research and data are needed, including additional surveys and interviews.

If you would like to share any thoughts or questions, please leave a response or email me at krheim AT gmail.com.

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