Degrees in communications are commonly offered through college distance education programs, and many degree programs can be completed totally online. Students access classes as their schedules permit, within stated deadlines, and communicate with classmates and instructors through chat functions, e-mail and message boards. While some programs are available completely online, others combine online and on-campus coursework. Internships are generally not required. Many schools allow students to choose between full- and part-time study. Associate's and bachelor's degree programs require a high school diploma, while master's degree programs generally require a completed bachelor's degree, prior to matriculation.
These degree programs prepare students for a number of different careers that involve communication, including business, public relations, marketing and journalism. Associate's and bachelor's degrees are designed for entry-level students, while most master's programs are aimed at students with some experience in their field. Courses in the undergraduate degree programs may include mass communications, ethics and communications research. At the master's degree level, communications students choose courses that will aid them in their specialties such as political communications, public relations or corporate communications.
Associate's Degree in Communications
Interpersonal, media and intercultural communications are emphasized in this program that prepares graduates for entry-level in such fields as business management, corporate training, marketing, journalism or public relations. Ethics and gender differences in communication are also emphasized. By studying speeches and communication theory, students are trained to deliver effective, informative presentations. The only prerequisite necessary for first-time admission is typically a high school diploma or GED equivalent.
Program Information and Requirements
Typically, the associate's degree program consists of around 60 credit hours; however, students are free to take as many or as few courses as they want, at any one time. Graduates may apply credits toward the pursuit of a bachelor's degree. The program is delivered by way of an electronic class room. Students are required to check in to the online classroom at least once a week to receive and submit assignments, view lectures and communicate with faculty and fellow students.
Technical requirements include a computer with Internet access, cable or DSL preferred. Microsoft Office should be installed along with Adobe Acrobat Reader, Adobe Flash Player or RealOne Player. A CD-ROM drive and antivirus software are also recommended.
In addition to core courses, students are required to complete a certain number of general education courses, which can include English, mathematics, social sciences, natural sciences, political science, literature and the humanities.
Students pursue an investigation of ethical considerations that exist in interpersonal and mediated communication. Among topics stressed are freedom of expression, objectivity and violence, in addition to privacy and confidentiality.
Small Group Communications
The nature of communication between members of teams, decision-making bodies, committees and discussion groups is the focus of this course. Students learn to analyze the dynamics involved in effective communication and non-effective communication in small groups.
Students investigate the history and mutual dependence of various types of national and international major media. The influence media has on society and how society might, in turn, influence the use of media are explored. Theories of mass media and the issues surrounding them are also examined.
Bachelor's Degree in Communications
Many students pursuing a communication bachelor's degree choose to concentrate in corporate communications or public relations. Graduates are prepared to enter the field in upper-level specialized communications positions. Skills developed include effective written, oral and visual communication techniques. These skills enable the graduate to develop productive relationships within a business setting or between an organization and the public.
Usually, this is presented as a degree-completion program. Applicants are required to have either earned an associate's degree or at least 24 credit hours of college level courses. Typically, the prerequisites consist of general education courses.
Program Information and Requirements
Because the number of transfer credits varies between students, the program completion time will also vary and can be completed in 2-4 years. Because the program is delivered entirely online, there is no in-person work required.
Delivered asynchronously, the program materials are transmitted by text, graphics and in audio or visual formats. Students may access the program 24 hours a day. Generally, a course management system, such as Blackboard, is used. Students communicate with each other and faculty through discussion boards and e-mail.
In addition to communications-specific courses, students may be required to complete a number of general courses including sociology, written and oral communication, psychology, political science, science, mathematics and history.
Students explore the methods used in the study of human communication. In addition to ethnographic research methodology, topics include experimental research, the conduct of surveys and content analysis.
This course introduces students to the principles and theories of public relations. In the context of real life situations and materials, students learn about different categories of the public, public relations tools and techniques of information dissemination to the public.
This is an intensive course in written communication. Students learn the history of print journalism as used in trade, business, industrial and commercial publications. Interviewing, editing and writing informative and persuasive material are among the skills developed.
Master's Degree in Communication
Students who choose to pursue an online master's degree in communications will usually specialize in political communication, corporate and non-profit communication, public and media relations, health communication or digital communication. The program is designed for the benefit of communications professionals, who wish to fine-tune their skills or develop new skills to be used in their workplace or with an eye toward advancement.
Program Information and Requirements
Prerequisites include a bachelor's degree from an accredited school and 2-3 letters of recommendation. Depending on the number of courses a student is able to carry at any one time, the program can be completed in less than three years. At some schools, students have the option of following a hybrid program, taking some courses in person and some courses online. In other cases, the program is presented entirely online. The program is delivered using a course management system, such as Blackboard or Sakai. Presentations, projects, assignments, papers and exams are accessed through the course management system. Communication takes place through threaded discussion rooms, e-mail and telephone.
Usually, the master's program consists of ten courses, all of which deal with communications. A master's thesis is typically the last course undertaken in the program. Thesis topics are chosen with the cooperation of a faculty advisor.
Digital tools and their use in such areas as public relations, political communication and health communication are examined. Students learn to create effective websites and viable Internet advertising. Social networking, digital journalism and blogs are examined for effectiveness and quality of presentation.
Students develop the skills necessary to be able to create an effective press release, letter or advertisement. Theories and principles of persuasion are examined, with an emphasis on likeability, trustworthiness and expertise. The aspects of consistency, reciprocity and conformity are investigated along with the use of humor and fear in the development of persuasive communication.
Students learn the roles, responsibilities and essential duties of press secretaries as they are performed in different areas, such as industry associations, advocacy organizations, the executive branch of government or political campaigns. Drafting press releases, talking point papers, strategy memos and op-ed pieces are among the skills developed in this course. Theories and techniques of handling press conference situations are also examined.
Depending on the degree, students may qualify for entry-level or advanced positions in various organizations or businesses such as journalism, public relations, marketing, promotions or advertising. Voluntary certification from professional organizations, such as the Public Relations Society of America, serves as an indicator of competence and may enhance employment and advancement possibilities (www.prsa.org).
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job opportunities in journalism for broadcast news analysts are expected to decrease by 13% during the 2014 to 2024 decade, while openings for advertising and promotion managers are expected to rise by 5% (www.bls.gov). Reporters and correspondents are expected to see an 8% decline in employment during the same period.
Associate's, bachelor's and master's degree programs in speech communications explore a variety of topics including small group communication and communication ethics. These programs may be available completely online or may require some in-person components, depending on the academic institution. While associate's and bachelor's degrees prepare students for entry-level positions, master's degree programs can help individuals secure advanced positions in fields such as journalism and advertising.