Why You Shouldn’t Go to Art School

AJ Empire Records artDon’t go to art school. That seems to be one of the underlying themes of Washington Monthly’s first ever compendium of the Worst Colleges in America.

Many of these colleges are dropout factories, where students are unlikely to graduate and prices, debt levels, and student loan default rates are high. For these students, the crucial question is where not to go to college. When you’re wandering through a minefield with destructive options that lead to high loan debt and no degree, it’s worth having a map. … 

Creating a list of the worst colleges also requires making judgments about the importance of different problems in higher education. For example, a worst colleges list has to decide whether a high-student-debt college with a so-so graduation rate should be ranked higher or lower than a cheaper option with minimal debt but even fewer completers. The Obama administration is currently grappling with exactly these problems as it works to create a credible federal college ratings system that could potentially identify colleges so bad that they lose eligibility for financial aid.

To better understand the challenge the administration has taken on, and further the cause of helping students in dire need of good advice about where not to enroll, the Washington Monthly examined 1,700 four-year colleges and universities and used a different rankings methodology to identify the twenty worst colleges in America.

In an effort to weigh several different factors appropriately, including value, they create four separate lists of rankings; but a constant across all four lists is art schools, particularly the private, for-profit kind. Like this one:

students would be well served to avoid the New England Institute of Art, a private for-profit college, where the typical net price is $29,700, median debt is $30,600, 16 percent of borrowers default on their loans, and just 36 percent of students graduate. 

That means that AJ from Empire Records, who quit his job to follow his lady love to Boston and enroll in art school there, is probably screwed. Sorry, AJ!

By contrast, no public university made any of the four lists. The lists also raised thorny questions about Historically Black Colleges and Universities, some of which are apparently much better bets than others:

two selective HBCUs, Fisk and Spelman, make our “Best Bang for the Buck” list (page 26), while other HBCUs, like Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina, have impressive records of helping often poorly prepared minority students earn degrees. But many HBCUs also struggle with results, sometimes because of underfunding, sometimes for other reasons.

To go back to the initial point, though, does it make more sense to get a Bachelor’s in something practical and then get an MFA? Well, art grad school is also a dicey proposition, as this article, published in Modern Painters, makes clear:

Given the skyrocketing cost of tuition, mounting student debt, high interest rates on loans, and a tough job market, you’d be crazy not to measure your education’s value against the risk involved? in paying for it, especially if you are considering a master’s degree in art or design. According to an article published earlier this year in the Wall Street Journal, students at art-focused schools rack up the highest debt, and the odds of their striking it rich right after graduation are not in their favor. 

Besides pinning one’s hopes on Cooper Union, what’s a sensitive young soul to do? Well, for one, consider going abroad. Goldsmiths College in England, for instance, is up there with Yale and Columbia, according to Art Space, as one of the top programs in the world — and it charges a fraction of what those elite US institutions do, even for international students. Or you could learn how to throw a fastball!

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