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.





Cooper Union



Rhode Island School of Design



California  Institute of the Arts



Cleveland Institute of Art



Minneapolis College of Art & Design



Kansas City Art Institute

Kansas City


College for Creative Studies



Art Center College of Design



The New School (Parsons)



Ringling College of Art & Design



Maryland Institute College of Art & Design



Moore College of Art & Design





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Good News From The Motor City

The headline everywhere is the same: Once the fourth largest city in the country, Detroit has now filed for bankruptcy. In 1950 this thriving hub of the auto industry had a population close to 2 million; now it’s truly a shadow of its former self, with just 700,000 calling it home. And worst of all, to pay for its debts the city is considering selling artwork from its beloved art museum, the Detroit Institute of Arts. Nothing like ripping your heart out.

Yet I’m here to tell you there is good news in the Motor City. Midtown and downtown are in the midst of a revival, with 90% occupancy from new start-ups and those who want to restore and refurbish this fabulous metropolis.  And in the heart of it sits the Cultural District with the Motown Museum, Detroit Public Library, Science Museum, Detroit Institute of Arts, and of course, the College for Creative Studies, (CCS) a non-profit, accredited, private art college of 1300 students.

Painting Studio (courtesy of CCS)I attended an open house information session at CCS last week, toured the campus, and felt I received an accurate impression of the college that in 2007 Bloomberg Business Week named among the top design schools in the world.

The college is split between two campuses – the Ford campus focuses primarily on fine arts and crafts, while the Taubman Center focuses on design. 12 undergraduate majors are offered, with a wealth of infrastructure to enable a strong basic understanding as well as encourage wide exploration in any discipline. CCS understands that college years are an investment in time and money. They support student and family investments with top-notch facilities and equipment. Tom Madden, Chair and Associate Professor in the Crafts Department, calls them “extraordinary.” I agree.

transportation studio close up 2Walking through the school I felt its mission statement come to life. They’re not teaching just art and design here. They’re teaching a path to a future career, with all the tools necessary to get there. Tools include a new way to communicate; by expressing and portraying ideas through art, whether a beautifully handcrafted wood sculpture or a flashy ad selling the hottest new shoe design. “Art is about language,” explained Robert Schefman, Chair and Associate Professor in the Foundation Department. “Our ideas are written down by drawing.” Those ideas are expressed through the illustration of a graphic novel, the line of a new car, or the interior design of a new restaurant. Additional tools include 42 credits of liberal arts classes, plus business lessons and a comprehensive understanding of how to show and sell your artwork in today’s digital world.

Students have the opportunity to live on or off campus throughout their four years. I climbed the steps to a fifth floor suite in the Art Centre Building on the Ford campus. (Easy to do when you’re young!) The apartment style set-up has two large bedrooms, two bathrooms, a large living room, large dining room, and a full kitchen. I liked the sunlit spaciousness of it, but felt the carpet could have used an update.

AudioEditing courtesy of CCSPre-College courses are available in numerous formats for those wanting to get a head start on their college education. And once enrolled as an undergraduate, Career Services provides an abundance of internship and networking opportunities. The sticker price for admission is $34,320, but CCS loudly claims that 98% of students receive financial aid in the form of scholarships, grants or loans. The message: don’t let sticker shock let you gloss over this school.

The day’s tour guides all wore bright green t-shirts proudly claiming, “CCS: Art lives in this city.” They’re so right. There is much more to share about this remarkable college – much more than just one post’s worth. For now, my suggestion is simple: go see it for yourself.  You’ll like what you see.

(Top and bottom photos courtesy of CCS)

Welcome Week

Compass Rose nsew bw.inddI’m going to guess that few college-bound students find a need for a compass these days, even if it is available as an app at the iPhone store. Good thing colleges provide their own directional tool; it’s called orientation. This real-life app guides parents and students as they travel to the new and often, uncharted territory that is college.

Orientation days on a college campus are a bundle of nerves. Uneasy ones can range from “what will my roommate really be like?” to “what if I can’t make it here?” and everything in between. Thrilling ones focus on the adventure of it all, life beyond high school, and – let’s face it, the most common one – “I’m so ready to live without mom and dad.”  Sorry parents.

Each campus holds its own unique orientation experience. Some early in the summer, some right before school begins in the fall. Some last a few days, others an entire week. Whichever way your college rolls, once you step foot on campus your time will be jammed full of information and connectedness. It’s an introduction to programs, services and people that will surround you over the next four years of your life.

The purpose is simple; set everyone’s mind at ease and engage students with this new place called “home.” For moms and dads it’s an opportunity to catch a glimpse of what life will be like for your child over the next four years. Tours and information sessions provide parents with peace of mind about residential living, available health services, access to professors and administrators, and how students will grow artistically and academically during their time on campus. Parents meet faculty and staff, tour the city around them, and share stories with other restless parents.

SAIC Dining Hall

SAIC Dining Hall

Students get the better end of the deal. They learn about resources and services available to them, in creative and engaging ways. Through workshops and ridiculously fun social activities that no one thought of when I was in college, students become acquainted with their new living environment and begin building friendships that will last a lifetime.

Information sessions are typically led by upperclassmen who were freshmen themselves just one or two short years ago. As peer, residential, and department advisors they introduce students to staff and administrators while disseminating valuable information about academic policies, course registration, and the slew of activities, clubs and organizations on campus. They openly discuss the stresses associated with living away from home – often for the first time – and provide freshmen with tips and resources to help with the adjustment.

Orientation workshops and meetings provide assurance as they educate students about the vast array of services and resources available including student health and counseling, financial aid, and career and professional development services. The pool parties, karaoke nights, competitions, field trips and campus-wide events help make the adjustment that much more fun.

Pre-orientation programs get the ball rolling even sooner. Designed to create connections and build friendships even before stepping foot on campus, they provide opportunities to hike, backpack, canoe or even surf (seriously!) your way to memorable experiences and new friendships, all in the name of engaging you with your new home.

Academic Value

Taking the tour at SAIC

Taking the tour at SAIC

What’s all the hubbub about accreditation?

For art and design schools, accreditation is through NASAD, the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.  Membership, made possible only through an in-depth peer review process, equates to a stamp of authenticity for art and design programs across the country. Whether you’re interested in an independent, free-standing college of art and design or a program inside a larger college or university, accreditation ensures a comprehensive education that meets academic standards leading to graduation.

Guidelines and principles for art and design programs cover a wide range of issues including: admission to undergraduate study, art and design curricula, liberal arts degrees with an art or design major, combination degrees in studio and art history, baccalaureate degrees in art education … and the list goes on.

The benefit to you is academic value; standards for educational quality are set and met.

Accreditation initially came into popularity as a guide for transferring acceptable credits from one institution to another. There needed to be uniformity; the coursework and education at each school needed to be comparable. In today’s marketplace, where cost is often the driver that moves students from one program to another, comparables are as necessary as ever. However, each institution has its own requirements for transfer credits, so you’ll need to confirm what is acceptable in each individual program. If this is a concern, contact the admissions office. They’ll help you out.

I often think accreditation comes into play for for-profit institutions. Different in name and mission from non-profits, their goals are not just the altruistic education of their students.  For them, accreditation provides a level playing field on which they can market themselves equally.

Whatever schools you’re considering, my suggestion is to add accreditation to your research list. While visiting college websites make sure they’re accredited.  I usually find it in the “About Us” section.

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.