Almost two years ago when I called my parents to let them know I had applied to Portland State University’s Book Publishing program, their first question was, “Graduate degrees in book publishing exist? Is that really the best way to break into the publishing industry?”
This is a very good question. After all, advanced degrees in publishing in the US are a relatively new phenomenon. Currently there are only eight institutions of higher education in the country that offer such degrees. Comparatively, the UK alone has twenty-five different universities offering graduate level degrees in publishing, while Canada has multiple universities offering undergraduate, graduate, or professional degrees. Australia, New Zealand, and Germany also boast a sizeable number of options for earning publishing degrees.
The second question my parents asked me after they did some Googling was, “Why didn’t you apply to the graduate programs at NYU or George Washington University? What does PSU’s graduate program have to offer that the East Coast degrees don’t?”
Again, fair question. “Publishing” is an incredibly broad field, encompassing everything from trade books to magazines, newspapers, textbooks, and academic material. Then there’s the difference between working in print versus digital publishing. How can one graduate program cover everything the field has to teach? And then there’s the fact that publishing is primarily seen as a business or a vocation, not an area in which one pursues an advanced degree.
So why the seemingly sudden growth in popularity? Per Henningsgaard, Director of Publishing at PSU gives one explanation: “The publishing industry was built on an apprenticeship model, but as jobs have become increasingly sought after, publishers have figured out that hiring someone with minimal skills and then training them up is a slow and costly undertaking. Better to hire someone who already has experience in an industry, whether through unpaid internships, a graduate degree, or both.”
In addition to PSU, you can earn either an MS or MA in Publishing at Emerson College, New York University, Pace University, Rosemont College, George Washington University, University of Houston–Victoria, and Drexel University (the last offers a degree in Publishing Management). All seven of these places prepare students for entirely different realms of the publishing industry, realms that PSU’s graduate program admittedly does not include in its purview.
Most noticeably, PSU’s program is firmly rooted in the world of small, independent publishing. Portland, while a hotbed of literary creativity, has nowhere near the amount of industry and networking options that powerhouse cities like New York City, Boston, or Philadelphia have to offer. Moreover, because Ooligan Press exists as a trade press, the program does not offer classes on the publication of magazines or journals, or about the financial side of running a business. The majority of the other degree programs, such as Emerson, Drexel, and NYU, provide broad overviews of different facets of publishing and make the teaching of magazine publishing and financial analysis some of the core components of their programs.
Another significant difference between PSU’s graduate publishing program and that of other US colleges is the presence or lack of vocational tracking. While all of the degree programs aim to have their students gain a well-rounded perspective of the many different facets of publishing, the degree programs at Rosemont, George Washington University, and the University of Houston–Victoria all require students to pick from an option of tracks or concentrations that will determine the path their education will take. Tracks range from the expected, like Editorial, Design, and Business, to the more specialized, such as Rosemont College’s Children’s & Young Adult.
The best determining factor in deciding what kind of program you enter (be it publishing or something else entirely) is what kind of education or experience you want to have and what you want to do with it afterwards. I chose PSU’s graduate program because I loved that I would be putting the lessons I learned in the classroom into practice through working at Ooligan Press. I wanted the experience of working for a small press and gaining skills in multiple practical applications rather than specializing in a specific skillset. However, that is certainly not what everyone who wants to enter publishing want to do—some want to be a part of the big city, corporate publishing world.
The field of graduate studies in publishing in the US is still in its infancy. What it offers and provides for its students will continue to grow and evolve over time, reflecting older practices and ideas, while also incorporating new ones, just as the publishing industry continues to do.