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Brooks on the Brink?
A recent story in the Ventura County Star, "Brooks Institute Under Microscope," reports on a recent visit by inspectors from the Bureau of Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education to the school. The Bureau is tasked with investigating vocational institutions and making sure schools don't defraud students.
Brooks has been under fire for nearly two years now for a pattern of questionable recruiting practices.
According to the Star, "The school came under scrutiny from state regulators for making inflated claims to prospective students about job prospects and salaries they could earn after graduation – conclusions that were ultimately thrown out by a judge."
What Brooks is alleged to have done is to make promises to new students that the jobs and the money would be there when they graduated – that is, of course, after they spent between $90,000 - $100,000 getting the degree.
The Star reports, "Some students say the school has addressed many of the problems detailed in the now-invalidated 2005 report. But they also remain unhappy over what they say is a lack of communication between them and administrators at the school."
When I originally posted to my blog about the investigation in July 2005, I had no idea what sort of response I would get. Now, after nearly two years since the initial investigation, dozens of former "Brookies" have commented to my blog about the situation.
While some of the comments are very supportive of the institution, others, the majority, speak of broken promises and shattered dreams.
For example, one former worker claims, "I used to work at Brooks – I was uncomfortable with the way the students were treated, misled about rules for withdrawing from classes, etc. Some employees were primarily motivated by their sky-rocketing stocks in the corporation."
One graduate wrote, "When I entered Brooks in 1977 no promises were made to me, in fact many of the teachers were quite candid about the challenges of making a living in the field ... the number of high-earning people in photography is probably about the same as professional sports, with about the same odds. They should tell you that."
Another wrote, "I attended Brooks Institute during the year of 2004. I was told very similar things when I was applying. Specifically I remember being told that Brooks had a 97 percent placement rate after graduation. What they did not tell me was that folks working at Target's studio or Wal-Mart were considered to be 'working in their field.' I believe the educators at Brooks to be excellent, but I think I could have gotten this amount of knowledge from a junior college with the right amount of hard work. I came to Brooks because I had been traveling around the world and wanted to know more about the photos I was attempting to take. I have not left the country since I first signed my loans. In fact I've become a wildland firefighter and commercial fisherman just to pay some of them down. My parents, worried about my ability to keep paying them because they co-signed them, have now bought me out of those loans. I now owe them $42,000. They have saved for retirement all of their lives and now just lost a large chunk of this. The weight of this knowledge is staggering and holds me down."
The negative feelings expressed by readers on the blog reflect a sincere attempt to make sense of the situation.
Ultimately, it is the individual who must do the research to make sure what someone says is true.
•Truth: The average salary of a journalist in 2006 was about $31,000 a year. New hires, obviously, can expect to be paid less.
•Fiction: Photojournalism graduates could make $50,000 or more right out of college.
•Truth: The number of full-time jobs in photojournalism is declining due to a number of factors.
•Fiction: Photojournalism will find it easy to get a job in the field.
Educators owe it to their students to present a clear picture of the challenges ahead.
Media is changing
Given the current state of oligopoly in the media industry these days fewer full-time occupational opportunities exist for photojournalists than they have in past few decades. Daily newspapers, which have traditionally hired the greatest numbers of photojournalists, are constantly besieged with finding ways to make ends meet financially. Media consolidation and downsizing are making it increasingly difficult for college graduates to find employment. A Bear Stearns industry analysis estimates that the industry lost 1,520 positions in 2006 versus 2,500 positions in 2005. Even though few newspaper jobs were cut in 2006, the decline is significant. A recent article in Editor & Publisher quotes the Fitch Ratings:
"Most newspapers have been cutting staff for several years, and while they may not yet have achieved optimal utilization of their staffs, Fitch believes cultural issues and union affiliates could obstruct meaningful labor-related cost-cutting."
The U.S. Department of Labor is predicting journalism jobs in traditional print and broadcast markets to grow more slowly than average until 2014. Accordingly, "Many factors will contribute to the limited job growth in this occupation. Consolidation and convergence should continue in the publishing and broadcasting industries."
© Dennis Dunleavy, Ph.D
Assistant Professor/Photojournalism Coordinator, School of Journalism and Mass Communications, San Jose University
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