The status of communication education in church-related colleges

Arthur William Hunt


In early American education the study of communication served a socio-religious need by helping trained ministers defend the church. However, this religious purpose soon became obscured with swelling body of general knowledge, specialization within the curriculum, and growing college enrollments. Today there are well over a dozen areas of specialization within the field of communication which are supported by professional associations and constitute a rationale for course offerings within the college curriculum. The purpose of this study was to assess the status of communication education in church-related institutions of higher education. Religious colleges vary in regard to size, mission, curriculum, governance, hiring practices, and campus culture. Religious commitment also varies because these institutions are vulnerable to societal shifts and educational trends. Sandin (1990) categorized church-related colleges in four groups: pervasively religious, religiously supportive, nominally church-related, and independent colleges with historical ties. This study used samples from communication departments of all church-related colleges, broadly defined, from Sandin's listing which covered a full range of religious commitment. This study also assessed communication departments within the Christian College Coalition which claim a "commitment to the centrality of Jesus Christ to all campus life," "integration of biblical faith with academics and student life," and "hiring practices that require a personal Christian commitment from each full-time faculty member and administrator" (Peterson's Choose a Christian College, 1996). This study employed a descriptive research methodology, collecting information directly from individuals who possessed the information. This study used three techniques to produce data--a survey, a content analysis, and a series of interviews. The survey was directed to chairpersons who serve in communication departments of church-related colleges and universities. Using a data-to-theory approach, the content analysis was applied to programs and courses described within the student catalogs of church-related institutions. The interviews were conducted with twelve randomly selected department chairpersons within the field of communication and with a purposeful sample of two scholars within Christian higher education. This study demonstrated that in terms of integration, pervasively religious and colleges from the Christian College Coalition showed a notable attempt to integrate faith and learning. Also, a declaration of religious purpose determines a distinctive academic and philosophical flavor in terms of the texture of the faculty. Seeing themselves as primarily teaching institutions, communication departments within church-related colleges minimize the practice of research and do so in relation to their degree of religious commitment. The status of communication education in church-related colleges and universities reflects a great diversity of programs and courses. The content analysis used in this study yielded 165 courses alone in the area of mass communication. It was concluded that the general trend towards disciplinary specialization and diversity found in communication education broadly is also mirrored within church schools. The study of communication has its historical roots in the humanities, but in this century it has been influenced by the social sciences. The existence of these two perspectives is present within communication education in church-related institutions but with an attempt to impose a Christian motif upon the discipline if the institution has a declared religious purpose. Therefore, distinctively religious schools borrow everything necessary to establish reputable studies in communication and then strive to make it their own.