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The wide world of publishing is changing; everyone will tell you that. But if you ask what about publishing is changing, you’ll likely hear about the decline of physical books or the growth of digital books. And while the loss of bookstores and the latest, lightest e-reader make for compelling stories, they overshadow a less visible change currently happening at the other end of publishing: how people are getting into the industry.

Increasingly, the front door of publishing is through a master’s in publishing program.

Consider this: New York University’s M.S. in Publishing: Digital and Print Media degree program accepted 26% more students in 2011 from 2010. At the University of Houston–Victoria, a program established in 2009, online enrollment quadrupled this semester. Out west, Portland State University began its program in 2001 with eight students. For the 201–2012 academic year, there are 100 students enrolled.

“The old apprenticeship industry no longer exists,” says Sherman Raskin, director of the M.S. in Publishing program at Pace University, one of the older programs in the country, founded in 1984. “The Pace program makes publishing more than accidental. Before we started our program, students would graduate from college and apply for an entry level position. If they were fortunate enough to be employed, they would sit in a particular department and perform the same tasks for years, not having any knowledge of the industry.”

That’s where today’s publishing newcomers differ from the ones of previous generations: they enter the industry as better-rounded professionals, and that’s largely attributable to publishing programs. “Students are getting savvier, smarter, and hungrier each year,” says Abbey Gaterud, director of publishing at Portland State. “There’s more innovative thinking happening among the students and faculty, and there are certainly more people with the skills, knowledge, and desire to start their own publishing ventures.”

But what is a master’s in publishing program? To find out, PW spoke with faculty and administrators in six programs around the country: the University of Houston–Victoria, in Texas; Emerson College, in Boston; New York University; Portland State University, in Oregon; Pace University, in New York City; and Rosemont College, outside of Philadelphia. There are basic similarities between all of the schools; they all offer either an M.S. or an M.A. degree, most have around 100 students enrolled, and each takes between one and two years to complete full-time, requiring between 36 and 48 credits. At every school, there is also one traditional fact about publishing that is still true: the gender breakdown heavily favors women, with all schools reporting that between 70% and 85% of their students are female.

The curriculum at a publishing program consists of a set of core courses (as little as three and as many as eight) required of all students; some classes in this area include Communications Skills: How to Present Yourself Effectively in Print and in Person (Rosemont) and Mastering Management and Leadership”(NYU), as well as the standard introduction courses. From this broad foundation of core courses, the master’s student track narrows, moving into the second stage of the program: electives. The pool from which students select their courses is designed to give them a more specialized concentration of study, and this is where the programs begin to differ.

The program at Emerson, for example, has a creative angle to its curriculum. “Our program helps students look beyond the business of publishing and understand how publishers and writers work together to create publications,” says Emerson’s graduate program director, John Rodzvilla. “Students in the program can take column and magazine writing courses from industry professionals as well as graduate level workshops on nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. Our students are able to take a mix of publishing, literature, and writing workshops alongside creative writers in the M.F.A. program.”

Two programs, UHV and Portland State, make working on respected publications a significant part of their curriculum. At UHV, “students have the opportunity to choose from a wide range of areas of specialization with our in-house and partner publishers,” notes Kyle Schlesinger, assistant director of the Center for Literary Publishing at UHV. Schlesinger cites American Book Review, Cuneiform Press, Dark Sky, Fiction Collective 2, Symploke, and Huizache (the first journal to be entirely devoted to Mexican-American literature, whose Fall 2011 issue is its first) as outlets where students can work and train. “Students in the Style and Editing class this spring will be working on a new collection of essays by Johanna Drucker that address the nature of the book, writing, the alphabet, typography, and digital literature,” he says.

Portland State’s unique offering is Ooligan Press, an integrated trade publishing house that’s staffed entirely by students. Says Gaterud, who is also the publisher at Ooligan: “Faculty serve as guides, but we only guide. The decisions are made collaboratively by the students enrolled in the master’s program. As the biggest shareholders in the program’s publishing house, they’re given the ownership and responsibility of a cooperative. Since they own it, they believe in it and want to see it succeed far more than any traditional employee ever would.” Ooligan, which publishes three to four titles per year, will have published 30 titles by February 2012, with 23 still in print. Two of the press’s bestsellers are Ricochet River by Robin Cody and Cataclysms on the Columbia by John Eliot Allen, Marjorie Burns, and Scott Burns, though Gaterud considers a book “a success if we can break even on the production, and even more important, if the educational experience provided by that book is rich and varied.” This spring, PW reported that Portland State’s program could be jeopardized by Oregon’s fiscal crisis, but since then, Gaterud, who is acting as interim program director until a full director is installed, says, “We were given an assurance that the program is invaluable to the university.” She stresses that the university understands the support the program has. “I feel optimistic,” she says.

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