An Interview with Dr. Bey-Ling Sha On Accreditation in Public Relations.
By Joanne Kang, Kimberly Rodela, Joanna Tovar, and Alex Velez

Dr. Bey-Ling Sha, Dean of the College of Communications at CSUF.

Dr. Bey-Ling Sha is the Dean of the College of Communications at California State University, Fullerton. Dr. Sha has a Ph.D. in mass communication from the University of Maryland, College Park, and is Accredited by the Universal Accreditation Board. For the interview with Dr. Sha we discussed her 2010 research, “Accredited vs. non-accredited: The polarization of practitioners in the public relations profession.” We wanted a deeper understanding of the thought process behind this study such as the research methods and the importance of the results that came from this study. 

As graduation is getting closer for most of us, we start to wonder about our future, especially our professional careers. There are many different aspects in the public relations field that we can possibly branch out to. However, there is a question of the importance of being accredited and non-accredited in the public relations field. For that reason, we chose Dr. Sha’s 2010 study, “Accredited vs. non-accredited: The polarization of practitioners in the public relations profession.” This study was done to determine if there is a significant difference between accredited vs. non-accredited public relations professionals. You will get the chance to see the topics we discussed with Dr. Sha below.

Strengths vs. Weaknesses

We first wanted to know what Dr. Sha thought the strengths and weaknesses were in this study. The main strength she discussed with us was the sampling frame which was all the members of the Public Relations Society of America during the time of the study. She mentioned the difficulty in reaching out to public relations practitioners due to their busy schedules. Even with the difficulty, the survey was sent to 9,950 randomly selected PRSA members and the response rate was 15.1%, after the elimination of educators and retirees from the participation in the study. When it came to the weaknesses, the main weakness Dr. Sha noted that the PRSA membership does not necessarily reflect everybody who does public relations work or who thinks they do public relations work. There is just no way of getting to everybody. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses allowed us to learn and apply these lessons to our own study.

The Details of the Survey

The survey has something we were curious about: how the questions were created and how the respondents were found for the survey. When asked about how the questions for the survey were created, Dr. Sha wanted to see the differences between someone who had an APR and someone who didn’t. The hypothesis of the survey was also developed from a prior scholarship. Another reason why certain questions were created in the survey was to see why it was so important to get the APR. In order to find the respondents for this survey, access was obtained through inside track. Behalf of the Universal Accreditation Board, who oversees the world’s largest professional certification program in public relations (made up of 9 different PR organizations), one of the nine members was a part of the PRSA member (access to the sampling frame). Dr. Sha also mentioned that after it was reviewed by the research committee, PRSA staff pulled 9950 email addresses and sent it to the selected participants via email. 

“Elites” and “Non-Elites”: The Statistics Explain It All

When we asked this question to Dr. Sha, we were curious about how the conclusion about how the practitioners were being divided into the “elites” and “non-elites” came about. The conclusion that practitioners were being divided came strictly from a descriptive finding from the statistics. The statistics showed an independent variable which was the people who did or did not have their APR. People who did or didn’t have their APR had key differences and were very different statistically. These two groups of “elites” and “non-elites” had different education levels, age, and just overall experience. Since they had very key differences, it was easy to differentiate and develop clear results, but if there weren’t many differences in education, age, and experience then there would be no bifurcation. The statistics that were shown in Table 2 and Table 3 present that the results were statistically different and meaningful.

APR: Provide Vision for Public Relations in Your Organization – PRsay
Accreditation in Public Relations.

Women: There Are More Non-Accredited. Why?

When reading Dr. Sha’s study, we noticed the research showed there is a lack of female practitioners that pursued accreditation in public relations. When asked about the reasoning behind this statistic, Dr. Sha explained how, in general, women are more overworked no matter what field they are working in. In addition to having a job, they carry other responsibilities such as caring for their children, parents, and the home in general which makes it more difficult for them to pursue accreditation. Accreditation is not a simple process. It consists of many interviews, tests, and overall consuming tasks. The time commitment is enormous and not easy for anyone to handle. Although there is not a definite reason behind this statistic, Dr. Sha emphasizes that this is why she believes this type of research is so important. With the results, they are able to get a better understanding and therefore reach out to more women that lack the motivation to continue growing in their careers and, in this case, within the public relations field.

Will Ten Years Make a Difference?

Since this study was conducted ten years ago, we were curious to see if there would have been a difference, especially with the rise in technology. Dr. Sha gave us a direct and simple response which was there was no need to change anything and just see if the ten-year gap will show different results. Some of the changes Dr. Sha believed we could possibly see would be in the demographics or the increase of women with accreditation. Our “retesting,” would be replicating the study and it would simply be a check-in a decade later. 

What Is Success To You?

Dr. Sha believes each person has their own perspective on success. In terms of success within the accredited field, there is some data that shows that accredited professionals perform more strategic planning and earn more money overall. Dr. Sha explained how accreditation can lead to a better understanding of the ethical challenge of the public relations field, but that does not necessarily mean they are more successful. If we define being successful as being able to do public relations to its full potential, the accreditation definitely benefits PR practitioners as they are able to be more intentional and strategic, which is basically what public relations is all about. However, Dr. Sha would not necessarily blame accreditation for success. She says, “it just so happens that accredited people earn more money.”

Summary of our discussion with Dr. Sha.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the interview with Dr. Sha was based on her article “Accredited vs. non-accredited: The polarization of practitioners in the public relations profession.” This study was created on the behalf of  Universal Accreditation Board to see if accreditation is worth it for people within the field. Dr. Sha believes this study was successful because of the 9950 respondents she was able to gain access to through a PRSA member also affiliated with the accreditation board. Based on the research studies show that there is a difference in age, education, and gender between people who have pursued accreditation and those who have not. There also seemed to be a lack of women accredited. Dr. Sha suggests it could be due to lack of time and availability. The main reason for accreditation is to ensure PR practitioner’s credibility and ethical responsibilities within the field.  Becoming accredited does not determine an individual’s success; it is possible to have a successful career without obtaining an accreditation. 

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