SAIC: A Clear Mission

fvnma_taping2 from SAIC websiteEvery institution of higher education has its own mission; a singular statement of purpose that speaks to their raison d’être, or reason for existence. How they interpret that mission, and deliver their educational objectives to their students is what intrigues me. The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, SAIC, follows their own path. And, as a consistently top-ranked art college they must be doing something right.

Here are some distinct, core characteristics that caught my eye:

  • SAIC believes in exploration. That’s why their students don’t declare majors. They choose to focus their studies in one area or create their own concentration from among 18 intermingled departments. If graphic novels and critical studies are a passion, combine them here. If writing and fashion design is your preference, that’s possible too. Students are encouraged to stretch and experiment across disciplines. The sky’s the limit.
  • Art is subjective. You know that, I know that, and so does SAIC. That’s why their students are graded on a credit/no credit basis. The college utilizes frequent critiques and portfolio development to help build independent, creative thinkers in its studio courses. A strict class attendance policy ensures focus and participation.
  • logo -Right from the start freshmen at SAIC jump in with both feet. The college’s rigorous program is comprised of 16.5 credit hours the first semester and 15 the second. Students gain an “overview of surface, space and time, and how they interplay and connect with each other in year-long Core Studies and Research Studies classes,” explained Andrea Tarry, Associate Director for Undergraduate Admissions. A complementary, one semester course, Wired, teaches students how to use their computers as artistic and design tools. Additional requirements are English First Year Seminar, Art History Survey, and a studio elective in a department of their choosing. “We want students to begin exploring their personal interests right away,” offered Alexander Zak, Assistant Director for Undergraduate Admissions.
  • A new perspective is a good thing, and the school wants its students to see the world from different perspectives. So much so, that six credit hours of off-campus study are required for graduation. They could come in the form of a study abroad program, a co-op internship, a three-week study trip, or classes at another university. Inspiration is the goal here. Experiencing the world from varied vantage points will affect how you think, how you act, and how you create. Numerous scholarships are available to help pay for the experience.

 SAIC offers vast resources to its students and alumni, and I’ve only skimmed the surface here. I hope to explore more in the future, but in the meantime I’d suggest you go exploring yourself. Visit the Windy City. Get inspired and see what this creative institution has to offer.

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What Makes A College Unique?

Class critiques

Class critiques

One of my main objectives with Art.College.Life. is to try to identify the nuances that differentiate one college art program from another. It’s not always easy. Variables such as size, location and specialty are the obvious standouts, but delving deeper and learning more about each program brings out the true distinctions.

The Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning Department (DAAP) at the University of Cincinnati (UC) has found its place. The department participates in the university’s cooperative program (Co-op) offering students a real glimpse into potential careers while they’re still students. In existence since 1906, Co-op has become a mandatory part of the design curriculum. Beginning sophomore year DAAP’s fashion design, graphic design, industrial design, and interior design students alternate between semesters spent attending classes and working full-time in a professional area of interest. Integrating the two gives students the opportunity to apply classroom lessons to real-world situations, and bring on-the-job issues and concerns back into the classroom for further analysis and discussion.

Workplace assignments take place throughout the U.S. and across the globe. The list of companies and organizations in which DAAP students have engaged is impressive, including Abercrombie and Fitch, Fisher-Price, the Smithsonian Institute, and Warner Brothers Pictures. And, the benefits are fantastic; theory and practice live side by side as students gain first-hand experience, develop broad networks, and gain confidence in their chosen fields. The added time spent away from school means students take five years to complete their degrees, including summers. If cost is a concern, consider that Co-op students earn a salary during their working semesters.

Classrooms

Classrooms

Fine Arts and Art History majors aren’t left behind. Students here don’t have a cooperative requirement; however they are highly encouraged to intern or study abroad.

So how does DAAP fit into the big University of Cincinnati picture? UC is a public, land-grant research university located on 473 acres in Cincinnati, just north of the Ohio River. Its 42,000+ students divide themselvesinto more than 300 programs across campus. DAAP provides an intimate, liberal arts education inside the larger university context. Roughly 2,000 students study 10 undergraduate majors in four aptly named schools; Design, Art, Architecture, and Planning. The Design school engages about half the department with majors in Fashion Design, Graphic Communication Design, and Industrial Design. Art is comprised of Fine Arts and Art History; Architecture includes its namesake and Interior Design. Design majors graduate with a Bachelor of Science. Fine Arts graduates receive a BFA after four years; Art History majors receive a B.A.

UC_logoAccolades for the university are numerous. “Among the top tier of the Best National Universities,” claimed U.S. News and World Report in September, 2012. And Travel & Leisure magazine listed it as “one of the world’s most beautiful campuses” in 2011. Hitting even closer to home, the 2013 Design Intelligence survey ranked DAAP’s Industrial Design best in the nation, and Interior Design second best.

The news gets better once you’re actually on campus. According to Amberly Maryo, Senior Assistant Dean for Student Affairs, 93.3% of DAAP students entering as freshmen in 2012 returned to the university in 2013. That’s the highest retention rate on campus. Clearly they’re doing something right!

As a parent of two college students myself, I understand the anxiety that accompanies the transition from college to the “real world.” Any help bridging that looming gap will be readily appreciated and welcomed with open arms.

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Art School Alumni Speak Out

cameraSami Harthoorn and Ari Gabel traveled different roads to arrive at Ringling College of Art & Design. A native of Sarasota, Florida, Sami almost stumbled out her backdoor to get there. Ringling was a good school, and she could save money by living at home.

Ari grew up a short distance from another strong art school, the Columbus College of Art & Design. He developed a love for photography as a sophomore in high school, and considered attending CCAD, but really wanted that “away from home” experience. He was contemplating a state school, but with guidance from an attentive high school art teacher and the support of his parents, he landed at Ringling.

Ari and Sami graduated in 2012 and 2013 respectively, each with a BFA in Photography. Both now reside in Columbus, Ohio. They agreed to sit down and talk with me recently, to share college experiences and recommendations for future art students. The result was a diverse list of suggestions for those wanting to major in the fine arts. Derived from the good, the bad, and the ugly, here is what I heard – with some of my own suggestions piled on top of theirs.

Before you go…

          Research individual programs within a school, not just the school itself. Why? Sometimes the money and resources are focused in a program other than the one you find the most interesting. (Art.College.Life.) How? Start with the admissions office; they’ll have the most up-to-date information about each department, and can put you in contact with current students or recent grads.

          If a big school experience is what you crave, think twice before you sign up to attend a small art school. (ACL) A liberal arts college or university will offer a broader range of coursework to complement your art studies, but you won’t get as focused of an art education. That’s the tradeoff.

          Paying back loans after graduation can feel daunting and overwhelming. Make sure you’re truly aware of how much your education will cost you, and how much you’ll be borrowing before you sign that acceptance letter.

During your time on campus…

          Choose to live on campus! Living elsewhere might be more economical, but you’ll meet more people and feel more connected to the school when you’re there 24/7.

          Experiment! Try new things. You can’t make a mistake.

          HAVE PATIENCE. (ACL) Learning your art/craft takes time and lots of practice.

          “Major in a something that will make you money; minor in something you’re passionate about.” Meaning: it’s not easy getting a job as a fine artist.

          Start networking as soon as you land on campus. Easier said than done, especially since most students won’t have an artistic style developed yet and a related direction, but it’s still a worthwhile goal. Make contacts and try to build relationships with people of all ages and stages of their careers; students, faculty, community members. (ACL) It’ll pay off in the long run.

          “Learn something you can’t teach yourself.”

          Take art history seriously. (ACL) Learning about artists who came before you is eye-opening and inspirational.

          Find your niche. (ACL) Again, easier said than done, but start by doing what you love and applying your unique perspective to it. Your niche will follow.

          Pursue an internship. (ACL) And then apply yourself. You’ll be surprised what you learn about the world, and yourself.

So what’s it like After graduation…?

Shifting to life after college is an adventure all its own. Both Ari and Sami spoke about further developing their networks, and missing the fact that they used to live among other artists and “talk art” at all hours of the day. And of course they miss having access to the great equipment and tools available to them at Ringling. But both seemed ready to actively jump into their art. Sami’s direction has shifted a bit since graduation. She’s sculpting in wood these days, and is interested in store front and set design. She’s also contemplating an MFA. Her recent submission to an open call for artists landed her a spot in Surthrive in the Heartland at The Ohio State University Urban Arts Space. The exhibit runs through September 21st.

Ari hopes to continue his focus on photography. His interests lie in historical anthropology. Check out his website and flickr pages. You’ll see his passion, loud and clear. He is currently looking to assist well established photographers to further his own craft, and continue to build his network and portfolio. He gave me one other recommendation to pass along to burgeoning fine arts photographers. Join the American Society of Media Photographers. Membership for students and those just one year out is just $45/year. Put up a profile and you’ll find consistent job leads.

Sami and Ari clearly enjoyed their time at Ringling, and they both seem interested in the independence that a career in the fine arts can bring. They love their art, and craft, and they are beginning to grasp the business side of working in creative fields – something that Ringling knows how to teach.

Consider The End: Art School Graduate

art school grad pillow - lesrubadesign dot comLife is pretty good. You’re working your way through the maze of portfolio days, applications, campus tours and interviews, but in reality you already know where you want to attend college. You even dream about it. All that’s really left is the waiting game and the email stating “we’d like to welcome you into the class of …” But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before you dream of your happily-ever-after college experience I hope you’ll consider reality for a minute; the reality of graduation.

Colleges and universities work very hard to attract the most talented and brightest students. They invest significant time and resources into recruiting, accepting and enrolling dedicated individuals. But once in the door, how much attention is paid to retention – and its cousin – graduation? Will the school make it easy for you to stay on course and graduate on time? And why should you care?

The answers are wrapped up in a multitude of tangibles and intangibles, often not easily measured. Cost and years to completion play a role. So do learned skills, experience gained, connections made, maturity, and confidence.

Let’s consider graduation rates. Collegereality.com, produced by The Chronicle of Higher Education with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, helps navigate some critical issues that should be considered when selecting a college. I used their data on pricing and graduation to compare the most fiscally fit schools, as defined by Forbes.

Average Net Price

Graduation Rate

School

Income Range

$75,001-$110,00

4 years

6 years

 national average for a BA

$18,158

33.0%

48.3%

Cooper Union

$14,052

62.6%

75.7%

Rhode Island School of Design

$38,611

75.3%

86.9%

California  Institute of the Arts

$45,485

50.7%

65.2%

Cleveland Institute of Art

$32,501

31.3%

57.8%

Minneapolis College of Art & Design

$30,863

69.6%

n/a

Reading between the lines, here is what you need to know:

  • Collegereality.com comparisons are based on obtaining a BA, not a BFA.
  •  Most likely you won’t be responsible for the advertised price; you’ll pay the average net price which takes scholarships and grants into consideration.
  • Government graduation rate standards don’t accurately reflect the times we live in. Part-time students, students who take time off in the midst of their college years, and transfer students don’t count in these outdated graduation rates. However, students graduating within 150% of the time it should take to graduate are included, (i.e. students taking up to six years to graduate from a four year institution).

I believe graduation rates also reflect the effort that faculty, staff, and especially career services personnel put into getting students on the right track. That’s where retention plays a role. According to a US News & World Report study, as many as one in three first year students don’t return to the same school sophomore year. Reasons vary from financial to academic to family issues. One way schools fight back is with organized first year experiences that are fun and engaging, and that help freshmen adjust to college life. They teach time management, money management, healthy eating habits, how to live independently from mom and dad, and how to trust yourself as an artist. Professors and career services professionals also help by ensuring students remain focused on their major, understand career opportunities, gain exposure to real-world experiences, and connect to prospective employers.

My advice: keep asking questions. Find out what first year experiences exist at the colleges you’re considering. Ask about their retention and graduation rates. Inquire how they’ll engage you with others on campus and in your chosen career. Even if you’ve got your heart set on a specific school, you’ll be happier in the long run.

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College Financial Fitness: Why It Matters

money - bills 2An article in the August 13th issue of Forbes magazine highlights colleges in New York and New Jersey that are in need of a financial pick-me-up. Their “quick fix” solution is to set aside a week in June where prospective students can walk on campus with transcripts and SAT in hand, and enroll on the spot, often receiving a financial discount. A speedy admission process immediately raises enrollment numbers and financial coffers. It sounds like it’s all about the money.

So what gives? Called “tuition junkies,” these colleges are heavily reliant upon tuition and fees to make ends meet.  They follow a philosophy – which I’ve never understood – to raise prices along with every other school, but give deep discounts to attract freshmen. Hundreds of schools across the country follow this same addictive behavior. (Clearly our system of financing higher education needs an adjustment, don’t you think?)

Hidden somewhere in this up-and-down yo-yo are the real costs of attending college, something that consumers rarely see. That’s where Forbes stepped in.  They created Forbes College Financial Grades to measure the fiscal reliability and security of over 900 four-year, non-profit colleges across the country. Their research considered balance sheets, operational soundness, admissions yield, and more to try to get a true picture of the financial health and wealth of each college. Fewer than half of the schools they studied ranked an “A” or “B.” And the list of art schools comes up a little short, but here are the results in the top two categories. Keep them in mind when considering the fiscal soundness of your college choices.

Ranking

College

City

74

Cooper Union

NYC

90

Rhode Island School of Design

Providence

113

California  Institute of the Arts

Valencia

133

Cleveland Institute of Art

Cleveland

137

Minneapolis College of Art & Design

Minneapolis

242

Kansas City Art Institute

Kansas City

249

College for Creative Studies

Detroit

254

Art Center College of Design

Pasadena

288

The New School (Parsons)

NYC

309

Ringling College of Art & Design

Sarasota

336

Maryland Institute College of Art & Design

Baltimore

379

Moore College of Art & Design

Philadelphia

 

 

 

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