Is a College Degree in Influencing a Good Thing?

Influencer graduation
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Beginning next year, a university in Ireland will be offering a first-of-its-kind bachelor of arts degree in influencing. The three-year program that’s being offered exclusively at South East Technological University in Carlow, Ireland comes at a time when 1 in 4 Gen Zers aspires to have a job as an influencer. Its courses include crisis management, public relations, celebrity studies, social psychology, and video and audio editing. 

“We knew there was a space and need for this, we just needed to develop the course into a bachelor’s degree and get it ratified,” Irene McCormick, a senior lecturer at the university, told the Washington Post earlier this week. 

That it’s taken this long for such a degree to exist is actually somewhat surprising. Depending on which estimate you believe the influencer marketing industry is estimated to be valued at either $16.4 billion or $21 billion. In addition, for the past few years, colleges like USC, Cornell, Duke, and Chapman have been offering a range of one-off courses in influencer strategy, business, and communications. 

On one hand, a college degree in influencing could further saturate an already saturated job market. While the most popular influencers like Kylie Jenner can make up to $1 million per sponsored Instagram post, the national median salary for influencers was estimated to be $45,406 by labor market data company Lightcast.

More importantly, as anyone who’s ever been an influencer is well aware, algorithms are fickle, and social media platforms can overhaul their practices overnight. Which is to say that any degree in influencing could, theoretically, be rendered obsolete in a matter of months.

This is perhaps why Cornell University communications professor Brooke Erin Duffy suggested to the Washington Post that “any program that tries to bill itself as a space to learn about the industry is really going to have to focus on higher-level concepts.”

All that said, creating a degree program in influencing, is a remarkable step in helping to further substantiate the industry as a whole. For example, no one really considered “marketing” a viable career path — it was considered a branch of economics and was often called applied economics — until the first decade of the twentieth century when “marketing courses” began to appear in universities. In 1902, the University of Michigan offered what many believe to be the very first course in marketing. Other universities soon followed, including the Harvard Business School. And in 1914, Harvard’s required course “Economic Resources of the United States” was renamed “Marketing.” Today, there are over 52,000 degrees awarded annually for the discipline. 

In short, a degree in influencing may, on the surface, appear like yet another bit of higher education quackery on the level of Trump University’s “Gold Elite” program. And truth be told, it’s still not totally clear what the influencing degree will require to graduate. 

But it might also help remove many of the stigmas associated with social media success. “Influencing is a highly feminized field and any feminized field is going to be denigrated or relegated to inferior status,” Duffy added. A formal degree could change that. 

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