From the 2023 CPRE Signature Report, Part I

The 2023 CPRE report, Navigating Change: Recommendations for Advancing Undergraduate Education is the sixth Signature study by the Commission on Public Relations Education since its inception in 1973. Presented as part of CPRE’s 50th anniversary, the report provides perspectives from 466 professionals, both practitioners and educators. Thirty-eight CPRE representatives on seven educator/practitioner teams developed the study and analyzed the responses. This report is the first to have crowdsourcing as its base for determining the foci of the survey. The findings help identify strengths and weaknesses both in preparing students for the workplace and in helping them transition into work.

Practitioners Have High Expectations

Based on the study, practitioners have high expectations for recent graduates. They want students who have mastered the foundations, gained experience and more.

— Practitioners’ perceptions of the 3 most desired hiring characteristics: Writing, Teamwork ability, and internship experience.
— Educators’ perceptions of the 3 most desired hiring characteristics: Writing, internships, and teamwork ability.
— Of note, practitioners ranked PR coursework 4th and educators, 6th, also reaffirming the relevance of public relations foundational coursework to the profession.

While practitioners and educators rate their expectations for public relations education differently, they are in marked agreement on priority concerns for graduates. And practitioners also want new hires with critical thinking skills; an understanding of ethics; and an ability to work with data, although they recognize new hires won’t be data scientists.

Foundations Necessary

The bottom line is that students will have learned through the six-course standard, which was amended in the 2017 Commission report to include ethics. For the most part, the six-course standard appears to have taken hold, addressing key Knowledge, Skills & Abilities (KSAs) and hiring traits which practitioners expect in new hires at the entry level.

— Principles or Foundations (often Introduction to Public Relations)
— Writing
— Research
— Ethics
— Campaigns or Cases
— Internship

These courses represent the foundational requirements for successful entry into public relations; however, study participants suggested that these courses will need to ramp up their connections and development of critical strategic thinking, understanding diverse audiences, and ethical considerations in decision making and planning. 

Transition to Workforce Needs Addressing

Ultimately, it’s important to note that educators recognize that engaging students in a post-pandemic environment is challenging, given that many students have experienced on-line learning. At the same time, practitioners don’t really expect the workplace to return to pre-pandemic practices. Of particular note is that practitioners recognized the importance of reassessing on-boarding. CPRE adds that onboarding would be helpful for student interns as well, and that mentorship programs could help entry-level practitioners and interns, who’ve grown up with social media, to better understand nuances in office communication and protocol.

Bridging the classroom and practice expectations can also be eased by practitioners and educators continuing to work together in class presentations, case studies, understanding how data analysis is used, and through internship opportunities.

In summary, the data suggested a maturation of educational standards in that the six-course standard seems to be well represented in education, while ethics would be the one topic which needs more attention given its relevance. We address ethics in Part II. Practitioner and educator views on priorities are in alignment, which will strengthen connections to further prepare students for the reality of public relations practices.

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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