Accreditation and assessment
The Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture is one of 118 select journalism and mass communication programs accredited by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications. The School’s undergraduate program was provisionally re-accredited in 2018, to be reviewed in two years. (The School’s two master’s programs were not a part of the ACEJMC accreditation review.)
Accreditation is granted after an extensive self-study based on nine standards that include administration, diversity and student services. (The standards are listed at the bottom of this page.) According to the ACEJMC website, "Accreditation provides an assurance of quality to students, parents, and the public." Only about one in four mass communications programs around the country earn accreditation.
The most recent ACEJMC reaccreditation process of the School occurred in the 2017-2018 academic year. In its report, ACEJMC’s site-visit team praised the School’s faculty, staff and students, as well as the education provided at VCU.
Regarding faculty, the report said, "The site team got the strong impression that students love the faculty. One commented that 'professors are pushing us to do what we want to do.'" The report quoted a student as saying, "You feel the passion of the professors. They’re definitely invested in us and our futures."
One of the nine accrediting standards addresses diversity. The report said, "The School is committed to domestic and international diversity and inclusion and is seen as a leader at the university." About another one of the standards, curriculum, "The site team was impressed with the professional focus of the Robertson School. Students appreciate the industry savvy faculty who work hard to provide rich learning opportunities both in and out of the classroom."
Regarding student services and academic advising, the report said, "Students are well monitored by a caring and competent advising staff who work hard to ensure that they stay on track for graduation."
However, the site-visit team said the School did not meet ACEJMC’s Standard 4 Full-Time and Part-Time Faculty and Standard 9 Assessment of Learning Outcomes. As a result, the team recommended that the School receive provisional re-accreditation, and the Accrediting Council approved that recommendation in April 2018. The School already has taken steps to meet the site-visit team’s recommendations, including hiring several new faculty members and performing necessary assessment tasks.
The accreditation process occurs every six years and involves several steps:
- An exhaustive self-study conducted by the faculty and staff;
- A multi-day site visit by media educators and professionals, during which they meet with faculty and campus leaders, visit classes, complete their report and make a recommendation for full accreditation, provisional accreditation or denial of accreditation;
- A meeting of, and recommendation by, the national Accrediting Committee; and
- A meeting of, and final vote by, the national Accrediting Council.
"To our school, being accredited is a hallmark for strong quality, a differentiator from many similar programs and an assurance to the School's stakeholders — students, parents, alumni, the media industry and the university community alike — about its commitment to excellence," said Marcus Messner, Ph.D., interim director of the Robertson School.
As required by VCU and our national accrediting organization ACEJMC, the Robertson School has a plan to assess student learning outcomes, the RSMC Undergraduate Programs Assessment Plan. It begins:
"One of the Robertson School’s top goals is delivering curricula that provide students with a solid foundation in both the theory and practice of media and communications, especially in the fields of advertising, journalism and public relations. The School grants one undergraduate degree in Mass Communications through five academic programs: creative advertising, strategic advertising, broadcast journalism, print-online journalism and public relations.
Achieving that goal requires that the School’s faculty continuously reviews curricula through assessment efforts to ensure that in our rapidly changing fields curricula keep pace with and emphasize best practices, technological advances and philosophical shifts. Another goal is to ensure that the School’s curricula foster collaborative learning, with students learning from each other, from experts in the professions and from faculty."
The Assessment plan includes both indirect and direct measures to assess overall student learning. According to ACEJMC, "Direct measures require students to demonstrate their learning....Indirect measures capture perceptions, attitudes and outcomes of the learning experience." Specifically, we assess the 12 Professional Values and Competencies outlined by ACEJMC as required student learning outcomes. (These are listed at the bottom of this page.)
The School's faculty work hard for student learning to occur in Robertson School courses which are organized into curriula for our five undergraduate academic programs. See the VCU Robertson School Curriculum Grid in Google Docs. (Opens in a new window. Allows for detailed data sorting.)
The Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication assesses the School’s compliance with nine standards:
Standard 1. Mission, Governance and Administration: “The policies and practices of the unit ensure that it has an effectively and fairly administered working and learning environment.”
Standard 2. Curriculum and Instruction: “The unit provides a curriculum and instruction, whether on-site or online, that enable students to learn the knowledge, competencies and values the Council defines for preparing students to work in a diverse global and domestic society.”
Standard 3. Diversity and Inclusiveness: “The unit has an inclusive program that values domestic and global diversity, and serves and reflects society.”
Standard 4. Full-Time and Part-Time Faculty: “The unit hires, supports and evaluates a capable faculty with a balance of academic and professional credentials appropriate for the unit’s mission.”
Standard 5. Scholarship: Research, Creative and Professional Activity: “With unit support, faculty members contribute to the advancement of scholarly and professional knowledge and engage in scholarship (research, creative and professional activity) that contributes to their development.”
Standard 6. Student Services: “The unit provides students with the support and services that promote learning and ensure timely completion of their program of study.”
Standard 7. Resources, Facilities and Equipment: “The unit plans for, seeks and receives adequate resources to fulfill and sustain its mission.”
Standard 8. Professional and Public Service: “The unit and its faculty advance journalism and mass communication professions, fulfilling obligations to its community, alumni and the greater public.”
Standard 9. Assessment of Learning Outcomes: “The unit regularly assesses student learning and applies results to improve curriculum and instruction.”
As part of Standard 2, Curriculum and Instruction, the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications identifies 12 "professional values and competencies." The Robertson School of Media and Culture has adopted these competencies as learning outcomes and objectives for its students. Both the Accrediting Council and the School believe that all communications graduates must be able to:
• understand and apply the principles and laws of freedom of speech and press for the country in which the institution that invites ACEJMC is located, as well as receive instruction in and understand the range of systems of freedom of expression around the world, including the right to dissent, to monitor and criticize power, and to assemble and petition for redress of grievances;
• demonstrate an understanding of the history and role of professionals and institutions in shaping communications;
• demonstrate an understanding of gender, race ethnicity, sexual orientation and, as appropriate, other forms of diversity in domestic society in relation to mass communications;
• demonstrate an understanding of the diversity of peoples and cultures and of the significance and impact of mass communications in a global society;
• understand concepts and apply theories in the use and presentation of images and information;
• demonstrate an understanding of professional ethical principles and work ethically in pursuit of truth, accuracy, fairness and diversity;
• think critically, creatively and independently;
• conduct research and evaluate information by methods appropriate to the communications professions in which they work;
• write correctly and clearly in forms and styles appropriate for the communications professions, audiences and purposes they serve;
• critically evaluate their own work and that of others for accuracy and fairness, clarity, appropriate style and grammatical correctness;
• apply basic numerical and statistical concepts; and
• apply current tools and technologies appropriate for the communications professions in which they work, and to understand the digital world.
As explained above, the School’s graduate programs in strategic public relations and multimedia journalism have not been accredited by ACEJMC because the council’s process for accrediting professional master’s programs is relatively new. Even so, the School adheres to the accreditation standards for graduate programs. They state that a professional master’s degree program in journalism and mass communications must prepare students to:
• Meet ACEJMC’s basic competencies, with the added competency of contribution to knowledge appropriate to the profession;
• Think intelligently, strategically and critically about the fundamental and complex social and cultural issues of the profession;
• Master the skills and responsibilities of the profession with grounding in professional experience; and
• Perform the profession’s roles ethically.