Public relations undergoes review for accreditation

Latisha Ellison

The undergraduate public relations program at Kent State is currently under review for the Certification in Education for Public Relations (CEPR) provided by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

The CEPR is a mini-accreditation for just the public relations program, which is housed in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication (JMC). The school holds an accreditation from the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (ACEJMC), and if the public relations program gets the CEPR, it will be the only program in Ohio with both the ACEJMC and CEPR accreditations.

CEPR allows an outside review team to evaluate the program and endorse it as a high-quality PR program. The PRSA Educational Affairs committee oversees the accreditation process and eventually makes a recommendation to the PRSA board who ultimately decides whether or not to give a program accreditation.

In order to receive accreditation, there are eight standards the program should meet: A public relations curriculum that adequately prepares students; dedicated faculty; up-to-date resources, equipment, and facilities; quality of students; assessment; alumni and professional involvement; relationship between PR program and university as a whole and diversity and global perspectives.

“We feel we should be accredited, we feel we are a worthy program, but we also think it’s important to be accredited,” said JMC undergraduate coordinator and lecturer Tim Roberts. “It says we have a quality standard that we have to live up to and it’s a nice standard to meet, but it’s also a chance for us to say ‘what can we do to improve?’”

Roberts was the team leader for the application process, which began last Fall. The whole process first begins with a letter of intent, then filling out the application. Michele Ewing, an associate professor in JMC and undergraduate PR sequence coordinator, assisted with the application.

“We’ve been wanting to do this for some time, because it’s an opportunity for us to show the strength of our undergraduate public relations program,” Ewing said. “You can document that you have met or exceeded national standards for public relations education.”

The Educational Affairs committee sent two site reviewers to visit Kent State on April 11 and 12. Michael Cherenson, vice president of public relations at Success Communications Group, and Adam Horn, an assistant professor at the University of Central Missouri, spent two days at Kent sitting in on PR classes and meeting with students and faculty.

“What we’re looking for is to really affirm what was provided for us in the proposal and submissions by the school,” Cherenson said. “We’re also looking to identify other opportunities and challenges the school may have where we can make recommendations to improve the program and the outcome for students.”

Cherenson said he was impressed with the program and the students. He thinks the PR program at Kent is strong and one that is to be proud of.

“The response from the faculty, the students and the alumni have all indicated that the school has a very strong DNA and a passion for public relations,” Cherenson said. “They’ve really helped build the brand for PR Kent State.”

Cherenson noted that there was a constant theme among students and professors—a connection that moves beyond just a typical professor-student interaction.

“I have never met such caring professors, they know me by name and make a point to know me on a deeper level,” said Alyse Rohloff, a junior PR major.

Ewing said she heard a lot of positive feedback from the reviewers and the students who participated in meetings. She noted that while the program is strong, there is always room for improvement.

“I like the PR classes, but the amount of journalism you have to take at the beginning is just really overwhelming,” said Alexis Amato, a junior PR major. “I feel like it makes a lot of people dislike PR and sometimes switch their major.”

Amato continued to say that the school needed to work on better communication. Amato met with both Roberts and Ewing to discuss the PR program, which helped her understand how the journalism classes would help students when they reached their upper division PR courses.  

Adding the CEPR accreditation adds credibility to a PR program and allows it to elevate its national standing as one of the top PR programs. If the undergraduate program receives the accreditation, it will join a list of only 33 schools in the United States and four international schools who have received the CEPR.

Only two schools in Ohio currently hold a CEPR accreditation:The University of Cincinnati and Ohio Northern University. The University of Cincinnati was first accredited in 2007 and recently went under re-review in 2014.

“It (CEPR) adds credibility to a PR program, so it’s not just a stand-alone academic program, it’s affiliated with the national professional organization,” said Suzanne Boys, an associate professor and public relations program director at University of Cincinnati.

While enrollment at Cincinnati has been up, Boys can’t say the accreditation is the only reason for the increase. However, Boys thinks the accreditation is great for students who are looking for a PR program because it shows that an outside body is also saying that the program is excelling.

“They (students) may be able to expect a little more academic rigor and consistency so that they are on par with what is happening in the professional world,” Boys said.

The same can be said for the students at Kent State.

“As a student in PR, I have learned how to think strategically and think five steps ahead of a problem,” said Brenna Parker, a junior public relations major. “The PR program at Kent is truly unique. Students in this major are more connected to campus and have built strong relationships with faculty members and professionals.”

The alumni network is one the PR program prides itself on. Ben Brugler, president of Akhia, an integrated agency, is also a PR Kent graduate who has hired several PR Kent students.

“While it doesn’t sway me one way or another in terms of looking at this objectively, when I do see that a student has gone to Kent, I instantly associate a little higher standard with that person, and I like to push in the interview to see what they’ve learned and what they can apply,” Brugler said. “I know the courses they’ve gone through, I know their professors, I know what standards they’re held to.”

Brugler said Akhia is looking for strong writers who have gone through a journalism school like Kent and Ohio University. PR consultant and PR Kent alumna Carrie Kandes said Kent students are prepared to work even at the entry level position.

“They’ve already done a lot of the work they’re going to need to do in the workplace. The classes Kent offers in the PR sequence are very focused on skill development, and they have things in their portfolio to show they’ve done the work and they understand it,” Kandes said. “That is very different from most of the programs out there.”

Marcus Donaldson, a senior PR major, appreciates the PR faculty’s dedication to keeping the program up-to-date with the necessities in the professional world.

“They’ll (faculty) ask us what is and isn’t working in the curriculum; they actively look for student feedback and it’s encouraging,” Donaldson said. “While I might not directly benefit from curriculum changes, graduating from a program with maintained accreditation will have lasting rewards.”

Kandes agrees that the PR program at Kent continues to evolve to provide the best education for its students.

“I think the accreditation is really going to help the school get the resources they need to continue to keep up with the rapid pace of change in our industry,” Kandes said.

Cherenson and Horn will compile a report based on their site visit and make a recommendation to the Educational Affairs committee who will then make a formal recommendation to the PRSA board, who will make the final decision.

The final decision is expected to be made during the summer before the fall 2016 semester begins. If Kent State doesn’t receive the accreditation, it can reapply.

“It gives me a lot of confidence knowing that Kent is pushing to hold itself to even higher standards,” Brugler said. “They’re always looking to see what they could be doing better to get a more rounded program for their students. I think it says a lot about the school and the program.”

Latisha Ellison is the CCI reporter for The Kent Stater, contact her at [email protected].