Monday, June 26, 2006

The best PJ universities

Many folks have asked recently about the best colleges for photojournalism. My answer is always the same:   The university doesn't make the best PJ. The best PJ makes the most of their time at university.

This year's College Photographer of the Year is Casey Templeton. Templeton is a fine example of this philosophy. He is the only award winner in this year's CPOY contest from James Madison University. We'll learn more about him and his education next week.

With this said, the contest can show us some trends to assess the benefit-for-investment with different universities. Obviously, it would be better to track this information for 10 years and perform an aggregate assessment, but the Web site only includes this year's winners.

Realistically, it would be best to track and distill this information from all winners of all major contests from the last 10 years (if anyone is looking for a research project). However, let's use the information we have and draw a few conclusions.

When looking at the winners list, let's ignore who won gold, silver, bronze and honorable mention. I'm not discounting the quality of any winners, but the difference between these ranks is often subjective and could have been different with different judges. Instead, let's simply look at how many individuals from different universities got any awards.

Of these winners, let's eliminate the universities with only one winner (no matter how many awards were won by this individual). Next, eliminate the redundancies on the winners' list.

What remains is a solid guess at the quality of the PJ education at different universities. If nothing else, it shows their ability to teach students to shoot and select quality images for competition. Here's the breakdown by number of individual students who won any awards at this year's CPOY:

14   Ohio University
08   University of Missouri
07   Western Kentucky University
06   Brooks Institute of Photography
04   University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill
03   University of Florida
02   NONE

Based on these numbers, I'd bet any of these universities would provide a quality PJ education with a likelihood of landing a decent job upon graduation.

Why am I convinced?

As was proven again this year by Templeton and last year by Gershon, one driven PJ can take all the marbles without cohorts. However, strong programs draw strong students. These students are frequently as demanding on one another as they are on themselves. In other words, critiques in these classes are probably passionate.

I've also included the number of universities who had a pair of winners. The number is zero. However, I'd need to look at the numbers from other years to nail this theory to the door. I do know there is at least one university that's building a trend lately, but it takes more than one winner per year to display educational dominance.

This profession is about scooping the competition and dominating the field. A quality university should understand this and push their PJ students to perform at this level.

If a student is torn between different colleges, demand a track record before signing the dotted line. Ask the journalism department for a list of major award winners from the university. Also ask them for a list of graduates who are currently working as professionals in the industry.

If these universities purport to teach journalism, they'll be able to give a reasonable answer. After all, these universities teach journalism, which is about real-world, real-time research. If they have no real-world knowledge about their graduates, be concerned.

Enough for now,

Please see the 2006, 2007 and 2008 updates.

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