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Is a Master's Degree in Journalism Worth It?

- By Seung Pang, Staff Writer -

Columbia University’s School of Journalism recently created a new master’s program in data journalism, which is estimated to cost $147,514 for a yearlong program. Getting a master’s degree in journalism from this renowned private university amounts to the cost of owning a luxury car. But is it worth it? The average starting salary for journalists is well-known to be low. According to PayScale, the national average of journalist salary is $37,000.

In defense of the high-cost program, Chantal De Soto, Communications Manager at Columbia University School of Journalism, said, “The challenge for the next generation of journalists will be to adapt data and computational science to reporting and storytelling while upholding the profession’s core journalistic mission.”

Yes, the current media world is data heavy. Both young media outlets such as The Vox Media and BuzzFeed and traditional newspapers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post hire data-driven journalists to deliver more accurate information to readers.

As digital and data journalism jobs increase in correlation to declining print and other traditional journalism jobs, a graduate degree is relevant for young journalists to meet the demand of contemporary media market. But the cost of tuition for the three-semester-long program is just daunting. Looking at the reality of affording higher education, roughly 70 percent of American graduates with bachelor’s degrees leave school with debt, according to The Hamilton Project’s 2014 study. For these borrowers, the average balance is $26,500.

Kassondra Cloos, a Colorado-based journalist, did everything in her power to minimize her undergraduate student loan debt. When she was attending Elon University, she got a scholarship, worked on campus, front-loaded all of her graduation requirements, and maximized the number of credits she was taking to avoid six figures of debt. “A year of private college often costs far more than the starting salary for young journalists,” said Cloos.

She had a lot of experiences from internships, fellowships, and the student newspaper, but Cloos wasn’t prepared for how much her student loans would cost and how little she would make in comparison. She realized that she would likely have much more disposable income if she had skipped college and been a waitress or bartender instead. “When you’re just starting out, it’s common to make $25,000 to $30,000, and sometimes much less, at your first job,” said Cloos. “For a long time, it was hard to think about how much I’ve spent on student loans and not get frustrated.”

Amanda James was a student at Columbia’s journalism school for the summer program called The Lede. The program, which enables students to learn the same skills taught in the data journalism master’s program, is around $15,000 for 12 weeks. “It is still a huge investment that I had to take out a loan for,” said James. But to James, the program was worth it as it allowed her to learn the data visualization and coding skills at an accelerated pace, for less than one-fourth of what the master’s program costs.

“I wouldn’t pay for the master’s program at Columbia,” said James. “The cost of tuition for universities in the U.S. has become a crime, creating a generation of graduates who will be slaves to lenders for the rest of their lives.” She believes enrolling in a certificate program at a prestigious school is a more affordable way to get access to a network of incredible alumni, to work with talented professors, to learn new skills, and to add the name of the school on one’s resume that will make him or her more employable.

“But at the end of the day, good journalists are those who produce good work,” said James. “It’s not about the name of the school where you got your degree,” she added.



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