Jason R. Piscia, Public Affairs Reporting Program director, University of Illinois Springfield
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Nika Schoonover, a student in the PAR Class of 2023, 
photographs a rally outside of the Illinois Statehouse. (Clay Stalter/UIS)
Nika Schoonover, a student in the PAR Class of 2023,
photographs a rally outside of the Illinois Statehouse. (Clay Stalter/UIS)

A grant from the Joyce Foundation will significantly boost the financial support for students in the University of Illinois Springfield’s Public Affairs Reporting program, the renowned 10-month master’s degree program that trains journalists to cover government and politics.

The two-year, $100,000 grant will supplement and enhance the funding PAR students receive while they are working for professional news organizations as full-time reporting interns in the state Capitol.

The grant further increases the affordability and accessibility of PAR’s graduate degree and high-level, real-world training for students seeking to level up their journalism job prospects. It also supports PAR’s ongoing contribution of providing additional journalists in the Illinois Statehouse press room, allowing news outlets to expand coverage of state government issues.

“The Joyce Foundation’s investment in the Public Affairs Reporting program represents the importance of strong journalism about state government and the need for a solid educational pipeline to train journalists to cover those issues and place them in local newsrooms around the country,” said PAR director Jason Piscia. “I encounter many potential students who’d love to earn a master’s degree and get real-life journalism experience on a high-profile beat like the Illinois Statehouse but simply can’t afford to spend an extra year in school. This grant changes the equation.”

The Joyce grant adds to the financial benefits available to PAR students. The benefits include:

  • Tuition waivers: The program does not charge tuition for more than half of the credit hours needed to earn a PAR degree.
  • Scholarships: PAR is supported by about a dozen scholarship funds established by alumni and friends of the program. All PAR students are guaranteed scholarship funding to additionally defray tuition costs.
  • Stipends and payments: The university provides a monthly stipend to students during their internships, which begin in January and run through June to coincide with the state legislature’s spring session. In addition, starting in 2023, the news organizations that host PAR interns began matching those stipends in the form of direct payments to students.

The Joyce funding will definitively make the program more affordable for PAR students when supplemented with program stipends and news organization support. Given the costs of graduate education and living expenses, Joyce funding allows PAR students increased financial stability so they can better concentrate on their full-time internships and coursework.

“It’s critically important that a next generation of reporters learns the skills to cover government and policy well,” said Hugh Dellios, manager of the Joyce Foundation’s Journalism program and a former Statehouse correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. “The PAR program stands out for its hands-on training in the Statehouse, and we’re happy to help make it more affordable for a wider range of young and aspiring journalists.”

The grant funding will be available to students in the new PAR class that begins this fall. Open seats remain in the class, which begins Aug. 25. Visit The Public Affairs Reporting website for more information and to apply for admission.

Over the next year, UIS’ Office of Advancement will work with PAR to develop a long-range fundraising strategy to sustain the enhanced student support beyond the two-year grant period.

The Joyce Foundation is a private, nonpartisan philanthropy that invests in public policies and strategies to advance racial equity and economic mobility for the next generation in the Great Lakes region. It supports policy research, development, and advocacy in six program areas: Culture, Democracy, Education & Economic Mobility, Environment, Gun Violence Prevention & Justice Reform, and Journalism. Grant making is primarily in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin, while also exploring promising, evidence-informed policy solutions nationally and at the federal level. The Foundation was founded in 1948 by Beatrice Joyce Kean, the sole heir of the Joyce family, which built its wealth in lumber and related industries.

The University of Illinois Springfield’s Public Affairs Reporting program is a 10-month master’s degree program that trains journalists to cover government and politics. The highlight of the curriculum is a six-month internship with a professional news organization covering the Illinois General Assembly, the Illinois governor’s office and other aspects of state government from inside the state Capitol building in Springfield. The program was launched in 1972 by founding director Paul Simon, a former journalist who went on to serve five terms in the U.S. House and two terms in the U.S. Senate. Current director Jason Piscia is just the fourth person to lead PAR in its 50 years. He is a 1998 graduate of the program who went on to have a 21-year career in journalism before returning to UIS in 2019.

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