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Opinion

Opinion: $20,000 extra for a Cal journalism master’s? Sounds like a tough sell.

UC Berkeley journalism program
UC Berkeley campus.
(Los Angeles Times)

Edward Wasserman, the dean of UC Berkeley’s journalism program, is proposing an added student-paid fee of $10,250 per year for a master’s degree in journalism, according to an email I received from him. And the predictable response has been, how will journalists, of all people, be able to shoulder the added expense? These aren’t doctors or business executives. They’re, at least in the print world, working in a troubled industry that hasn’t quite figured out a way to hold on to the future.

Valid point. But my reaction is a little different: I’m also concerned about the journalism school’s ability to survive such a move. (Full disclosure: Cal is where I received my journalism training, and I would love to see the school thrive.)

If approved, the higher tuition would bring the annual price for the graduate program from about $15,800 a year to $26,050 a year, close to a 65% increase. That’s still a lot lower than many private schools charge but consider this: Some of the top-ranked journalism graduate schools run one-year programs, such as the esteemed Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University near Chicago and Columbia Journalism School at Columbia University in New York. Cal’s program requires two years. It would be charging $52,100 in tuition for a master’s degree. That’s more than Medill, less than Columbia.

Add in the second year of living expenses, though, and Cal comes out looking significantly worse on price tag than either of the others.

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These are issues that future journalists are going to keep in mind; they know their ability to pay off loans will probably be limited.

I understand the fix that the University of California is in. Blame Gov. Jerry Brown for not giving UC and Cal State the kind of budget boosts they needed and that California college students deserve. But if the J-school, as its alums call it, wants to continue drawing students while raising prices, it needs to consider reducing the time to earn a degree. It has to think about better efficiency, not just higher revenue.

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