Health Communication master program suspended

by Allison Hagan / Beacon Staff • March 31, 2016

Emerson will not be admitting a class of health communication graduate students for the 2016-17 academic year, according to Jan Roberts-Breslin, interim dean of graduate and professional studies. The master’s program, which began in 1994, is being revised and relaunched.

Health communication graduate students learn how to bring about behavior change through message strategies, from launching nationwide campaigns to influencing personal choices, according to Emerson’s course descriptions.

The degree is a joint program that allows Emerson students to take most of their classes at the college and science-oriented courses at Tufts University, Roberts-Breslin said. The contract between the two institutions ends in October 2016 and they decided not to renew it in light of the suspension.

Sue Gallagher, director of health communication at Tufts, said that the program will still exist at her university. She said there has not yet been talk of future negotiations.

“Our program is staying the same, minus courses with Emerson,” Gallagher said. “We couldn't renew because there isn’t going to be a program. As of now, I don’t know what else could happen.”

Although the partnership will not continue, Roberts-Breslin said students currently enrolled in the program can continue to take Tufts classes.

“We’re not leaving anyone in the lurch,” she said. “Anyone in the program will continue through as it was presented.”

Lack of enrollment has also played a part in the suspension decision, Roberts-Breslin said.  The average amount of students entering the program from 2008 to 2011 was 20, which has declined to only seven for the fall 2015 semester.

“There used to be very few health communication programs in the country, but now there are far more,” Roberts Breslin said. “Also, online programs are becoming increasingly popular.”

Timothy Edgar, graduate program director of 14 years for health communication, said he is leaving Emerson for a position at Tufts at the end of this academic year.

Edgar said he wants to to rebuild the health communication program at Tufts to focus more on global communication in the field.  

“I hope they come back with a better version of the program,” Edgar said. “I hope they find a way to make it work going forward.”

Roberts-Breslin said the department has launched a market research initiative to find out what students are looking for in a health communication master’s program.

“We thought we would take this year to look at health communication and find out how exactly we want to continue the program,” she said.

Yukiha Maruyama, president of the graduate association and health communication student, said that she thinks the suspension is a smart move that gives herself and faculty a chance to “dive in deep” to working on becoming a distinctive program.

“We’re developing a more robust health communication program that leverages Emerson’s niche areas of communication and fine arts,” Maruyama said. “I think it’s a really good opportunity to put our thinking caps on and see what we can offer that’s unique.”