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students, students who take time off in the midst of their college years, and transfer students don’t count in these outdated graduation rates.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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Summer Tours

College is a time for exploration. A four-year opportunity to throw caution to the wind; to try new adventures, expand your horizons, test yourself, and dream where your future might lead you.  A time to take classes in subjects you’ve always dreamed of, and never dreamed of. However, especially in this day and age, college is also a time to be practical and pragmatic. Rising tuition costs and student loan debt are a reality, and must be considered when making a college choice.

Easels awaiting freshmen at AAC

Easels awaiting freshmen at AAC

Artists need to carefully consider their undergraduate options. Deciding to study art often leads to questioning and criticism about practicality being thrown out the window. Where you study can have a large impact on your career after college. That’s just one of the reasons why I think college tours – and the limitless questions you should consider when touring – need to be an essential part of every student’s decision process.

Jeff Selingo, editor at large at The Chronicle of Higher Education, recently wrote an excellent and detailed article about the pros and cons of summer college tours. They are the best of times and the worst of times. Summer tours provide families freedom from high school and sports schedules to walk the walk, yet unfortunately they’re at a time when fewer students are on campus, giving a possible inaccurate image of what student life is really like. However, they’re still definitely worth the effort.

Jeff offers a “to do” list of questions to explore while on campus. For artists I’d add: make sure you tour studio spaces, inquire how many professors are working artists, inquire about working internships, and make sure to visit the career services office. The first of these will show you where you’ll spend most of your time on campus, and the latter three will help you better understand how the college will help connect you to a career after graduation.

Selecting where you’ll spend the next four years of your life is not an easy endeavor. Wherever you choose, you’ll want to make sure it provides you with lots of opportunities to dream, and then well-worn paths to apply those dreams to reality.

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.