by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Michael Pearce writes for the Martin Center about the politics of art school.
A series of disasters face art colleges and the art departments of American universities. Their campuses are closing, their freshmen numbers are dwindling, and their graduates are struggling. Getting more students into an art program is a hard sell.
To restore their appeal, art schools would do well to de-politicize their programs and focus on turning students into masters of their field who can then harness creativity for their art and their audience.
Art colleges struggle with the toxic perception that their graduates are qualified for nothing and have been bankrupted by their education. They take on tens of thousands of dollars in debt, only to be employed as burger-flippers clutching a worthless degree in their paint and grease-splattered hands. Their prospects are dismal: A 2018 Bankrate report noted that over 9 percent of them are unemployed, and fine art degrees ranked last of 162 different majors for their employment prospects—more than triple the average. Appallingly, with a 7.7 percent unemployment rate, high school dropouts are more likely to get a job than art majors. Of an estimated 2 million arts graduates, only 10 percent make a living as working artists.
It is difficult to know exactly how many art schools have closed nationally, but they are arm-in-arm with the closure of campuses across the nation. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that 1,200 college campuses have closed in the last five years, displacing 500,000 students. More than 100 for-profit and career colleges and 20 non-profit colleges closed in 2017 and 2018. Worried MFA program heads have secretly reported poor enrollment to artnet News.