SMPA expects first professional program to pad finances

The School of Media and Public Affairs will aim to build its brand and pump in revenue by launching programs to help professionals catch up in the digital age.

The school’s first jump into executive education, a major money-maker typically offered by business schools, will try to tap into D.C.’s wide market of professionals working anywhere from embassies to lobbying firms and media organizations.

This program, which was unanimously approved by the SMPA faculty, is projected to help fill the media school’s coffers and focuses on “informing, organizing and persuading in the digital age,” SMPA director Frank Sesno said. He expects a surplus in revenue by the second or third year.

The GW School of Business has launched executive education programs for athletes and female corporate leaders recently, with its program for retired sports stars charging $99,500 for tuition this year.

Sesno said the school is committed to leveraging the program as a way to enhance its degree-granting political communication and journalism programs. He said revenue will be invested into more graduate student financial aid and faculty research money.

“We can’t turn into a factory. We can’t turn into an ‘adult ed’ nighttime program,” Sesno said. “That’s not what we’re trying to do, so we have to be very careful how we do this. But I also think there is huge opportunity, and there is a huge need.”

The program is similar to others offered at SMPA’s competitors like Syracuse and American universities. The program will be tailored to organizations and professionals around D.C., helping to expand SMPA’s reach and improve its stature, Sesno said.

“The opportunity is phenomenal here. Everyone in this town needs to be a communicator,” Sesno said. “They want to connect with their audience, grow their community and persuade people and be influential through the arguments they present.”

It will likely be customizable for businesses or professionals to take weekend classes or week-long sessions.

Zubin Bamji, SMPA’s director of communications and marketing, said the school has broad ideas for classes, like “building community through social media” or “interviewing skills in the digital age,” but would adapt them for different groups.

Technological upheaval in communication – from social media to web production – has created huge demand from lobbyists, nonprofit interest groups and media relations professionals to boost their skills, said Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst for the nonprofit journalism school Poynter Institute.

“There’s a lot of hunger there for the new media, social media side of things,” Edmonds said. “I wouldn’t try to do that in Topeka, [Kan.], but in Washington you’ve got a terrific market of communications specialists.”

Sesno said some SMPA faculty will help design and teach the customized programs, which will include three-to-five day segments. Tuition will depend on how each program is customized, he added.

The focus on digital offerings ties in with SMPA’s degree-granting programs, which have been searching for new professors to teach multimedia and added courses in recent years like an online journalism workshop.

Sesno said he is also in talks with an Asian university to turn the program global, but said it was too early to discuss specifics.

The school is searching for a director who could be hired within the next few months to design the program.

Cory Weinberg contributed to this report.

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