College Tour: Art Center College of Design

In early April, I toured the Art Center College of Design in California. Set in a single modernist Ellwood-designed building that spans a ravine in the hills of Pasadena, the aptly named Hillside Campus is a visual study in contrasts. Harsh steel and glass are surrounded by eucalyptus trees and fragrant sweet jasmine.

Art Center walkway 2

Ellwood Building Walkway

It’s difficult to gain acceptance into this selective school, often ranked at the top of many college search lists. The reward for getting in is hard work and readiness for the real world.

As one admissions representative said, “you’ll never work as hard in industry as you do here.” Kit Baron, Senior Vice President of Admissions explained the reasoning behind the schools demanding curriculum and structure, tying it to the college’s core mission. Art Center “was founded not as an atelier but for industry, to listen to what client’s want,” she said. Translation: the school educates and helps students transition into the job world.

An example of the school’s strength is their Transportation Design program, which is constantly ranked #1 internationally. That stellar rating is reflected in the fact that every major automotive manufacturer has had an Art Center alum as a design chief or leader. Think about that; every major automotive manufacturer.

Class time

Beyond transportation, Art Center has 10 other undergraduate programs leading to BFA or BS degrees. Students are guided and challenged by approximately 400 faculty members, most of whom are also working artists. Classes are taught on the semester – or term – system, with three terms per year. A completed degree is based on eight terms, which means that students can graduate in fewer than three years. Most don’t though, typically taking 4–6 years to complete their education. There is no foundation year here, meaning students must be focused when they begin, but they’ll get to spend more time dedicated to their majors.

The smartly and strategically structured Illustration Department is the largest on campus. Five tracks exist within the department, directing students towards entertainment arts, motion, design, fine arts, or surface design. Each has a unique focus, requiring a different set of skills to work in their respective industries.

One of the hottest new majors trending across the country right now is Interaction Design, and Art Center has it. New due to our tech-focused world, it’s the study of apps and interfaces.

model shop projects 2

End-of-year model shop projects

Beyond the Ellwood building and adjacent Sinclair Pavilion for relaxation, there isn’t much else to this campus, reinforcing the focus on creating art. Students live down the hill, in off-campus apartments. A short drive away is South Campus, where Fine Art and Illustration students study, alongside graduate and community programs. The school’s long-range plan includes building dorms there in three years.

Art Center is not for the indecisive or inexperienced. Applicants already have a defined proficiency and a sense of direction. Prospective students apply directly into a major. The college accepts students on a rolling basis with just a few admissions deadlines.

More art.college.life. news can be found on facebook, twitter, and pinterest.

Tools You Can Use

English: The main building of the School of Vi...

School of Visual Arts, New York City. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a new website exclusively devoted to college graduation rates.  College Completion, funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is designed to provide comparative graduation results for institutions across the country.  Since I seldom find national rankings and listings that let me easily compare art schools, I was delighted to stumble across this site.

Organizationally, the site sorts schools as public, private, community colleges or for-profit institutions.  Data for individual institutions breaks out graduation rates by ethnicity and gender, identifies estimated spending per pupil, and also compares graduation rates, median SAT scores and student aid with a list of peer institutions.

The hiccups for those seeking information about art programs are two-fold.  First, if your intent is to include public schools in your comparison, you won’t be able to do it accurately here.  This site compares campuses as a whole.  The University of Michigan School of Art & Design is not broken out from general U of M statistics.  You’ll have to do that comparison manually, on your own.

The second hiccup is the site’s natural list of peer institutions.  It lists Monroe College and DeVry as top peers for The School of Visual Arts (SVA).  All three are private and for-profit institutions, but only SVA is known for its art program.  Also, the site doesn’t recognize all art schools; I couldn’t find Parsons.

Now comes the good news: the site does provide a custom field for comparing schools of your choice.  It took a little work to get my comparisons, but the process was pretty straight-forward.  I created a graph of six art schools in California.   Tools you can use - comparative chart - 6 california schools -lgThe result illustrates graduation rates for a 6-year and a 4-year period, the overall percentage of students who graduate, school spending per student, financial aid per student, and the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants.  A very useful tool if you’re intention is an art school in California.

Why

So why should you care about graduation rates?  The bottom line answer is finances – the college’s and yours.  High graduation rates speak to the support you’ll feel as a student – academically, financially and in your private life.  Plus, they have a direct relation to your economic success.  College graduates are more likely to obtain a higher paying job and have financial security.  That bodes well for the community as a whole and for the future of the institution, since alumni usually support their alma mater in one way or another.   Knowing that art students frequently take longer than the traditional four years to graduate, the four and six year rates provide added information for budgetary planning.