Accreditation in Public Relations Advocacy

APR, Ph.D. or Experience: Which Is Best for Teaching Undergrad?


The words still ring in my ears 20 years later — “If you don’t have a Ph.D., you really need to get Accredited.”

I had just started a full-time position teaching public relations at a small Midwest university. My teaching colleague and PR mentor, John Luecke, said that while getting a master’s degree may be a requirement to teach at the undergraduate level, earning the Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) credential would be the game-changer in how I educate.

John was right. However, Accreditation wasn’t easy. I was a new mom, juggling full-time teaching and a part-time career in the Air Force Reserve as a public affairs officer. I attended the local Chapter’s jump-start session and a couple of local workshops, but then put my APR studies on hold for a year. The timing was better the following year, and I started my studies in earnest, partnering up with an agency study buddy to complement my academic and military background. I spent an hour every night studying — sometimes even looking at homemade flashcards during my daughter’s swim classes. I applied the PR Planning model (Research, Planning, Implementation and Evaluation) to a nonprofit, and six months later I passed the Examination for Accreditation in Public Relations.

Along the way, I became a much better PR educator, moving beyond teaching flashy tactics to freshmen to focusing on a more strategic, evaluative approach for the campaigns class where students were writing comprehensive PR plans focused on measurable results. I also applied these concepts to my military career in public affairs, developing more strategic, effective and award-winning campaigns with meaningful evaluation.

Several years later — still teaching college full-time and serving in the Reserve — I started my Ph.D. My doctorate proved to be helpful in refining my research methods and expanding my theoretical understanding of communications and the social sciences. It also helped me secure my current military role as dean of students at National Defense University. The Ph.D. was difficult, and absolutely worth it — but it was earning my APR that provided me the critical foundation for public relations planning that I still use in my undergraduate PR classes.

So what makes a better PR professor? A doctorate? Practical experience? Accreditation? A professional communication teaching association I belong to recently discussed this in an online forum. The post, which talked about the credentials needed to educate undergrads majoring in public relations, spurred lively discussions among public relations faculty across the country. At the same time, the Commission on PR Education is examining this issue in depth. As for me, I stand my ground: Accreditation, experience and then a Ph.D., in that order, made me the PR teacher I am today. Isn’t it about time you considered earning your APR?

For more information about the Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) process, visit the Accreditation website here.

Ann Peru Knabe, Ph.D., APR+M, teaches public relations full-time at University of Wisconsin – Whitewater. She is currently on military leave, serving as the dean of students at National Defense University, and is a member of the Universal Accreditation Board (UAB).

About the author

Ann Peru Knabe, Ph.D., APR+M


  • Hi Ann,

    I found this article interesting, because I always wondered if earning a “terminal” degree in a field makes you more qualified than earning alternative certifications or extensive experience. (A similar example that I constantly wonder about would be if a Ph.D in political science/legal studies make someone more qualified to teach law or political science than someone who earned their J.D. and had years of experience in politics).

    Academic institutions should always be seeking the most qualified candidates to teach their students. However, some statistic accreditation agencies use the phrase “percentage of faculty with terminal degree”. This phrase alone could imply valuing a terminal degree over experience. In general, all are probably important no matter the discipline.

    Thanks for the article, Ann. It really made me think.

    • Thanks for the feedback!
      You summed it up… “In general, all are probably important no matter the discipline.”
      Best, Ann

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