Ever since high school, Fernando Bossoes, a first-year international student in Humber College’s Bachelor of Journalism program, knew he wanted to become a journalist.
Bossoes, who is from Brazil, chose to study journalism in Canada for its comprehensive and wide-ranging selection of multimedia journalism education.
“In my country, journalism is all about writing. Of course, writing is such an important point for journalists. But it’s not only about this anymore,” says Bossoes about Brazil’s current journalism curriculum. “If you think about journalism as just reading, it’s an old point of view.”
“When I saw Humber’s [program] for journalism, I saw that we can have opportunities to study video and audio production and photography classes. This variety of options in the journalism program is what made me choose Humber,” he shares.
Bossoes, however, is one of only seven students who have enrolled in the college’s journalism degree program this year. Humber College has seen declining enrolment in the program over recent years, prompting the decision to suspend the program in its entirety next fall.
The announcement was shared last Monday with the program’s students and faculty by associate dean of journalists and writers Sarah-Jane Greenway. This comes at no surprise for Greenway considering the pattern of enrolment over the past years.
“I see enrolment data every week. So as soon as people start to apply, and as soon as Humber starts issuing offers…you can see enrolment and we can see where things are headed,” says Greenway. “Enrolment in the degree program has been declining steadily for a couple of years now, and so I knew that we were going to have a very small incoming class.”
Small intakes strain a program through limitations on the classroom experience, student engagement and course offerings, which in turn affect students in all program years.
The college has monitored enrolment numbers for its Bachelor of Journalism program since 2019. It has found that enrolment dropped 65 per cent, from 20 total students in 2019 to seven in 2022.
The cause of declining enrolment at Humber College remains unknown; however, Greenway suggests possibilities like new journalism programs being introduced at other institutions, or a four-year journalism degree becoming less attractive to prospective students compared to post-grad or diploma programs. Other journalism programs at Humber, like their certificate and advanced diploma programs, have been experiencing steady, if not increasing, enrolment levels of approximately 30 to 50 students.
“It’s just the degree program [seeing a decline] which makes it really perplexing for me,” Greenway shares.
Greenway also suggests that the lack of in-person recruitment opportunities, like the Ontario College Fair or open house, during the pandemic can also be cited for the decline. “If you can’t get a bunch of high school students on campus to actually see the newsroom, then they don’t quite understand what the program is about,” Greenway explains. “They don’t get excited about what they could experience at Humber.”
Humber College is not the only institution whose journalism degree program is decreasing in numbers. Post-secondary institutions across Canada offering degree programs in journalism and mass communications have also seen a steady decline, according to Statistics Canada.
Many experts attribute such decline to the financial state of modern journalism. Budget cuts, shrinking newsrooms, outdated curriculum and overwhelming competition for full-time positions are some of the reasons why many have deterred from pursuing journalism at the post-secondary level, according to the Insight Into Diversity magazine.
In a 2019 interview with the magazine, Joel Kaplan, associate dean for professional graduate studies at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications, explained that a more entrepreneurial approach to journalism education will benefit students as freelance writing appears to be a more viable option.
The program will suspend first-year enrolment in September 2023 for at least one academic year. During this time, Greenway, program faculty and the college’s Program Advisory Committee will conduct a review of the program. This review will occur through focus groups with current students, curriculum reviews and an environmental scan of other journalism programs in Toronto. The results will then be used to restructure or redesign the program to attract more prospective students.
Such news about the suspension of a program may be disheartening or discouraging for students, prompting them to doubt their decision to pursue journalism as a career. But for students like Bossoes, his passion for journalism overcomes uncertainty.
“This situation makes me think that I need to get better and better every day,” says Bossoes, who explains that the announcement was not discouraging, but motivating.
“This gets me to think about it and keep working on it. It didn’t affect me at all. Of course, you do think, ‘Am I doing the right thing or not?’, but I believe I’m doing the right thing.”