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The future of graphic communication education

The Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport, PA just discontinued their Graphic Communication Technology major. The decline in enrollment began in 2001 and only four new students entered the major in the more recent term.

By Frank Romano
Published: November 11, 2011


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Frank Romano has spent over 50 years in the printing and publishing industries. Many know him best as the editor of the International Paper Pocket Pal or from the hundreds of articles he has written for publications from North America and Europe to the Middle East to Asia and Australia. Romano lectures extensively, having addressed virtually every club, association, group, and professional organization at one time or another. He is one of the industry's foremost keynote speakers. He continues to teach courses at RIT and other universities and works with students on unique research projects.

Please offer your feedback to Frank. He can be reached at frank@whattheythink.com.



By Andrew Tribute on Nov 11, 2011

Frank you are so right on this. I am associated as a visiting professor with the leading UK college in the is area, The London College of Communication. I attended this college back in the 1960s when it was The London College of Printing. Here the emphasis has totally switched away from print to being a college specializing in design, photography, digital media, journalism and publishing. The principal course for high-level qualification for the printing industry, the degree in print media management will not continue after the final entry from last September. It has been found that there is limited demand for this course and most demand came from Africa and the Far East. There are now only top-up courses to add print to other courses, or short term courses with an element of print within them.

Print is no longer seen as Frank says as an industry of interest. I think this is predominantly because we as an industry have failed to show that it is a very high-tech industry where sophisticated IT opens up huge opportunities in creating new forms of communication. At least the London College of Communication saw the change happening and switched its orientation to all aspects of communications and away from print. The problem is it failed to emphasize that printing was a key element of today's and tomorrow's methods of communication.


By Pete Rivard on Nov 11, 2011

I had to look twice at the byline to make sure that I hadn't written the article, Frank. I couldn't agree more. One only wonders, with 44,000 fresh designers graduating every year, why the printing industry's promotional material is so unrelentingly ugly. To anyone who disputes this, I simply invite them them to check out http://whyvizcomm.org and compare it to, say, www.aiga.org/why-design. Our numbers are down too, so our program has taken our marketing into our own hands. Incidentally, we have installed two brand new presses (both flexo) and have been ratcheting up our digital print curriculum as well as our interactive course offerings. Dunwoody's current program name: Design & Graphics Technologies.


By Thomas Schildgen on Nov 11, 2011


Your comments (since the days of Wes Carter and Compugraphic) continue to provide direction for the Graphic Communications curriculum. Arizona State University embraced a cross media curriculum several years ago and we continue to experience enrollment growth at both the undergraduate and graduate degrees. As we replace faculty there will be a focus on Information Technology. I was asked to chair a task force in the College of Technology and Innovation to address new Information Technology BS and BAS degrees that involve the Graphic Information Technology faculty and the Computing Studies faculty. It remains critical to the success of our graduates that there be a balance of Technology courses with Management courses.


By Patrick Henry on Nov 11, 2011

I have been an adjunct lecturer in graduate programs at New York University since 1987, with a concentration in graphic communication technologies since the mid-1990s. At that time, printing accounted for two-thirds to three-quarters of the material that I would cover in a typical course. In the course I'm presenting this semester, we devote just two of 14 sessions to printing: one to conventional processes, the other to digital . The same shift in emphasis has occurred in undergraduate courses that I've taught at New York City College of Technology.

What happened? Frank, Andy, and the other posters have expressed it very well: over the years, "graphic communications" has stopped being exclusively or even chiefly about depositing ink and toner onto paper. Graphic communications curricula that fail to reflect this new reality are, as everyone agrees, badly out of step with the needs of students and the industry that is expected to absorb them.

Today, my program at NYU surrounds the sessions on printing with lectures that give equal weight to e-ink and e-reading devices; mobile marketing; QR codes; blogging and social networking; augmented reality; paperless book and magazine publishing; branding and brand management; and branded packaging. Our aim is to assess the role of each of these graphic communication technologies in building an effective media mix. Students cap the course with team presentations proposing strategies that try to utilize all of these channels—printing included—in media campaigns for entrepreneurial business ventures.

My students never fail to impress me—and they very often dazzle me—with the creativity and imagination that they bring to this exercise. But, what's most gratifying to see is the respect they show to printing as a key to their understanding of what the much bigger picture of "graphic communications" is all about. Once it's been linked conceptually in their minds to other technologies that serve the same purposes in clearly complementary ways, printing runs little risk of being confused with farming or burger-flipping as a dead-end career objective.

Context, psychologists tell us, is everything. My teaching experience tells me it's the only thing that can keep print relevant in educational programs that, as Frank suggests, rightly fear using the words "print" and "printing" in course titles lest they scare prospective students away.

"Graphic communications" is the academic context that we must provide—but the industry lacks a consensus on what "graphic communications" means as a rubric for the classroom. The educational sit-downs at Graph Expo 2012 should be dedicated to reaching an agreement about what should be included in (and excluded from) the definition.

I believe that the discussion should be led not by the usual pontificating industry groups, but by the colleges and universities that gamely populate the all-too-remotely located "Education Alley" section of the exhibit hall every year. Let the teachers teach the employers what needs to be done to assure a secure and respectful future for graphic communications education.

Finally, in response to the harsh things Frank has to say about the administration of industry scholarship programs, I can only hope that the "mess" he describes will be cleaned up wherever it exists. But, we shouldn't forget that some funding initiatives operate in ways that aren't open to this kind of criticism.

In New York City, the Graphic Communications Scholarship, Award and Career Advancement Foundation is a volunteer program that operates on next to no overhead and channels all of the money it raises directly to students. Its good work supports their pursuit of exactly the kinds of graphic communications career paths being endorsed in this thread. To learn more about the foundation, please visit http://in3.org/ga/scholarshipinfo/index.htm.


By Erik Nikkanen on Nov 11, 2011

I strongly suspect that there are things wrong with the graphic communication training and education model today.

There are too many issues that are changing too fast for the traditional model to stay effective. Part of the problem could be the emphasis on technology. This results in training as opposed to educating.

The result can be that the product (grads) provided by the Graphic Communication Educational industry is not as capable as what is required in this highly competitive environment.

It may also be that somehow young people recognize this. They may opt for educational paths that provide better quality education and more options than being restricted to a particular industry.

If a young person is interested in business, the better choice can be to go get a degree in business from a college or university. Similarly if one is interested in science and technology, taking science or engineering degree programs. The same thing with computer programming.

It seems to me that at times the Graphic educators think that they only can explain and teach their field. They have a false sense of the value of their own knowledge and they don't tend to listen to outsiders.

In reality I suggest that much of the major advancements in the field have come from scientists and engineers that were not trained by graphic arts oriented institutions.

I don't know what the answer is but a new model is needed.


By Chuck Gehman on Nov 14, 2011

Visit the Electronic Document Scholarship Foundation, http://www.edsf.org

Based on the scholarship recipients I've met personally, most pursue managerial, technical and leadership positions in the industry after they graduate. We're proud to support the best and brightest students at numerous institutions in choosing the Graphic Communications Industry for their career path.

Many of the EDSF scholarships have specific requirements for areas of study and the group is looking for candidates with distinct professional objectives in mind.

The EDSF scholarship program is supported by companies and individuals involved in the Document Management and Graphic Communications industry including 4over, AIIM International, Allegra Network, AlphaGraphics, BCT, Böwe Bell + Howell, C.P. Bourg, Canon USA, CGS Publishing Technologies, Consolidated Graphics, Eastman Kodak, EFI, Equitrac, FedEx Office, Franchise Services, GMC Software, Hewlett-Packard, InfoPrint, InfoTrends, Mimeo.com, Océ North America, OfficeMax, Pitney Bowes, Presstek, PrinterPresence, Quark, Ricoh Americas Corporation, RISO, WhatTheyThink.com and Xerox Corporation.

In addition to the scholarships funded by the EDSF supporters, EDSF administers scholarships for the following companies: Axis, Inc., Clampitt Paper, Heidelberg USA, The Lewis M. Gabbe Foundation, The Hoods Memorial Fund, OutputLinks Communications Group and Questex Media Group.

Our group has hosted a wildly successful fund raising event at GraphExpo for the last two years, raising significant money that goes to the hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships we have been able to provide.

Our generous industry patrons cover the costs of the event. Frank must be talking about some other scholarship organization, because the characterization he makes does not match what EDSF has done at the show (and thanks to the GASC for their support, while I'm at it). As for "promotion print", I'm proud to say that my own company, Mimeo, donated the auction catalogs and posters for the event this year.


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