Benefits / Resources / Articles
October 03, 2022

PPA Announces Sweeping Changes to Degree Program                            

PPA moves to make its degree program more accessible to members 

Announces groundbreaking new Photographic Competition

 In an effort to make the PPA degree program more accessible to all PPA members, Professional Photographers of America today announced sweeping changes to its degree program. The changes create dramatic new processes for members to submit images to be evaluated for degrees while maintaining the long-standing criteria used to determine the quality of an image.  

Since the PPA degree program’s inception almost 90 years ago, PPA members had to wait each year until the International Photographic Competition, which was held just once annually, to have their images judged. That reality forced creators to prepare four images to be submitted at the same time – an overwhelming task for many working photographers. If the images didn’t receive a merit, they had to wait a year before submitting images again. The new system creates a monthly Merit Image Review (MIR), allowing creators to work within their own busy schedules to prepare and submit images for the MIR. Creators will receive almost immediate feedback once the images are reviewed. If the image does not merit, the creator can choose to receive a critique and immediately re-submit the same image. Of course, they can also submit new images at any time.

Rich Newell managed the previous International Photographic Competition. He says the new MIR system removes many of the traditional barriers that prohibited most PPA members from participating. “The important part of all of this is that the standard for receiving a merit will not change,” says Newell. “The 12 elements that are used to determine whether an image receives a merit will remain the same. The integrity of the merit will remain paramount. What we are changing is the process for entering. People are busier than ever. It’s time we acknowledge the realities of our members’ lives. THAT is what this is about.”

The current PPA degree system was first introduced in 1936 as a means to counter decreasing skill levels among photographers – primarily the result of a glut of low-cost second-hand cameras available during and after the Great Depression. The first PPA Master of Photography degrees were awarded in 1939.  More than eight decades later, the purpose of the degree program remains exactly the same, says PPA President Jeff Dachowski. “When you get right down to it, the Merit is the standard for professional photography in America. It’s the reason the system was created 86 years ago, and it is the reason it remains important today.”  

The new system addresses a concern that has been a focus of PPA’s staff and board of directors for more than a year – the 20-year trend of declining participation in the PPA degree program. While the Master of Photography program remains coveted, the previous processes had become out of touch with photographers’ lives, most of whom are busier today than at any time in history. The new processes give them the flexibility to work on their PPA degree at their own pace and in their own timeframe.  

What hasn’t changed is the goal first envisioned by PPA’s leadership nearly a hundred years ago: to elevate the professional photographic industry by raising the skill level of the industry’s members.  Dachowski points out, “Every degree recipient I have ever talked to has said the same thing – working on their PPA Master of Photography Degree has made them a better photographer, more confident in their business, and better able to truly serve their customer. It is not just a nice thing to have. It is critical for this industry we all love.” 

The current plan is to hold the Merit Image Review 10 months each year – skipping December and January to accommodate the busy holiday photographic season and the annual Imaging USA conference.

It is important to note that the new MIR system does leave a void among many of the previous participants. An important part of the old International Photographic Competition system were pins, trophies, and awards ceremonies. Studies show that half of all people are averse to the idea of competitions or competing. While many see competition as fun and an opportunity for affirmation, others see it as negative and unappealing. As a result, the new Merit Image Review will have no competitive elements. However, recognizing there will be many who still want to compete with their artistry, PPA is also announcing the creation of a new International Photographic Competition. Aside from re-purposing the long-standing name that is so familiar to many PPA members, the new competition will be larger and unlike any other in the photographic industry. Details about the competition will be announced in February.  

“We just feel like we need to announce one thing at a time,” says PPA’s CEO David Trust. “The new Merit Image Review has a million moving parts, so we want to focus on that messaging first. I can tell you that we have the competition concept finished and work is starting. We just don’t want to talk about two new benefits at the same time.” While trying to play things close to the vest, Trust added, “In terms of a sneak preview, I can promise you it’s going to be an attention-grabber. It’s big. It’s really big.”     

Read more about the Merit Image Review.

About PPA:
Professional Photographers of America (PPA) is the largest and longest-standing nonprofit photography trade association. Founded in 1868, PPA helps 34,000 professionals elevate their craft and grow their business with resources and education, all under PPA’s core guiding principle of bridging the gap between photographers and their consumers. To learn more, visit