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An Ideal Model: Public Relations Education & Co-operative Education

Sonya Horsburgh, Mount Saint Vincent University

Experiential learning focuses on individual learning and can occur informally through life experiences as well as formally with experiential learning education such as internships, co-operative education, and service learning (Smith, 2001). Daugherty (2003) states “… experiential learning…appears to be an ideal pedagogy for professionally oriented programs” (p.1).

While internships, service learning, case studies and campaigns can make an important contribution to the integration of theory and practice, co-operative education, which is popular in Canada, does not appear to be as widely used in public relations education in the United States. Co-operative education was introduced to Canada in 1957 by the University of Waterloo and expanded into the professional program areas to be included in the curriculum offerings at many universities and community colleges. Today more than 80,000 students are enrolled in co-operative education programs in the arts, sciences and professional programs at approximately 80 Canadian post-secondary institutions.

In 1977 MSVU in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in collaboration with the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS), established the first Canadian professional degree in public relations. More than 1500 students have graduated with a Bachelor of Public Relations (BPR) since that time. Today MSVU offers the only fully accredited public relations co-operative education program in Canada and has graduated more than 800 students with co-operative education since 1982. Originally the program was designed to include an optional co-operative education component; however the program’s success in preparing entry-level practitioners led to the implementation of a mandatory co-operative education component in 2001, which has graduated approximately 440 students (MSVU Co-op Program Database).

It is clear that practical work experience is essential to public relations education; however implementation of this experience has not been applied consistently. This is an area that requires significant attention. Co-operative education programs that meet CAFCE accreditation guidelines appear to resolve many of the inconsistencies and quality issues identified by researchers and therefore may be the ideal experiential model for public relations education.

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Sonya Horsburgh Abstract

Sonya Horsburgh,
MA (Public Relations) student
Mount Saint Vincent University
Sonya.horsburgh@msvu.ca