As new media platforms rise and fall nearly every month, offering fresh avenues for organizations to communicate with audiences and one another, it can become more and more complicated to make sure every message stays true to key values and goals. It can be daunting, in an age that emphasizes traffic and engagements, to cut through the noise and find the feedback that matters most. And it can be tricky, especially in times of crisis, to make sure information is shared responsibly and in a cohesive voice.
That’s why Butler University’s new Master’s in Strategic Communication builds on the idea that lifelong learning is a must. Now open for applications, the online-only degree invites both up-and-coming communicators and seasoned professionals—creating a group of students who can learn from one another.
“In collaboration, our faculty and students will be exploring new practices, new vantage points, and new ideas,” says Strategic Communication Department Chair Mark Rademacher. “We really want to empower them to co-construct that learning experience. They’re the ones out there working in the field and bringing in real-world challenges to help us understand how these concepts work, not just in theory but in practice.”
The 30-credit-hour program prepares students for careers in a range of fields, from public relations, to advertising, to nonprofit work, and more. After five core classes covering the foundations of ethical, strategy-based communication—and how to use research and data to inform decisions—students can customize the program through five elective courses. These electives offer a deep dive into areas such as Crisis Communication, Branding, Media Relations, Social Media, and other timely topics.
Rademacher says strategic communication is about using research-based insights to understand the needs of key stakeholders, to communicate with them in an authentic way across a variety of channels, and to build trust and mutually beneficial relationships. Professionals in this field must be able to understand the process of how ideas are developed and received. It’s not just about advertising, or just about public relations—as professional organizations see increased crossover between these roles, Butler’s program reflects that shift.
The curriculum was developed based on market research that Rademacher and other Strategic Communication faculty began pursuing several years ago with the support of Butler’s Office of Academic Program Development and Innovation. They discovered a great deal of demand and excitement for this kind of program across the communication industry, among both employers and potential students. According to EAB, a company that collects data about trends and challenges facing the education industry, regional demand for degreed strategic communication professionals increased by 80 percent from September 2016 through February 2019. This growth is expected to continue over the next several years.
With the rise of new technologies and media platforms, some professionals without academic backgrounds in communication are finding themselves in communication-heavy roles. Others who have been in the field for years—or even decades—have watched those technologies change around them, and they are seeking opportunities to grow their skills while learning the most up-to-date strategies. And in a time when we have the ability to collect and analyze more information than ever before, communicators want to know how they can sort through all that data and use it in ways that will help them better serve their audiences.
“Increasingly in our communication environment,” Rademacher says, “we have access to so much data. We have so much insight into how people are using websites and how they are engaging via social media. That old adage of ‘I know what worked before, so let’s do that again’—that’s out the window. Using data and research isn’t just a crutch for communicating to executives that what you’re doing is a smart move: It really pervades everything we’re doing.”
Each class module lasts for seven weeks, allowing students to focus on one topic at a time, with week-long breaks between courses. If continuously enrolled, this means the program can be completed in as little as 20 months.
“We don’t want students to think this is a program that drags on, or that it will be a challenge to your ability to work full-time and balance family obligations,” Rademacher says. “We want you to come in, focus, and really invest in this experience. We believe that when you can do that in intensive, short bursts, that’s the most engaging way to do it.”
This is a degree for working professionals, with the goal of helping them do what they do better. Rademacher wants students to apply what they are learning each day, having an immediate impact in their workplaces or other spaces they are passionate about.
Even though the classes are entirely online—a feature meant to provide more flexibility—the program emphasizes learning through connections with peers, faculty, and industry professionals. Rademacher calls this the Butler online experience.
“For us, that means tapping into this idea that you can be online but not alone,” he says. “We’re working on elements of the program that help build a cohort mentality. We want students forming relationships with one another through group work and conversation.”
The Master’s in Strategic Communication will be truly hands-on. Classes will be project-based, focusing on the application of theory to the practice of strategic communication, which will allow students to pursue topics related to the challenges that are most relevant to their personal or professional goals.
“Butler’s Strategic Communication faculty provide that ideal balance of theory and practice,” says CCOM Dean Brooke Barnett. “They have created a graduate program that plays to their strengths. Students will benefit from the dynamic, relevant, and engaged learning techniques that are a hallmark of a Butler education.”
Classes for the program’s first cohort begin August 26, 2020. There are three application deadlines: April 1, June 1, and August 1. You can learn more or submit an application here.
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