It’s no secret that students and families are increasingly focused on the return they get from their investment in higher education. And they’re measuring that return by their employment outcomes: if students achieve their goals in the job market, they feel the cost of tuition is worth it.
In this climate, many colleges are revamping their academic programs to incorporate more career development, especially in fields that are perceived to be less practical, like fine arts.
“After the recession a lot of arts programs said we have to make sure students can navigate the economy as well as the studio,” explains Linda Essig, Dean of Arts and Letters at California State University at Los Angeles. “Students today will have on average 11 careers. So you need skills that are transferable.”
Writing for CNBC, Tim Mullaney reports that colleges across the United States are pairing fine arts programs with entrepreneurial lessons to teach artists how to create their own gigs by becoming freelancers or founding their own companies or nonprofits.
After all, arts students are more likely to start organizations than other grads, according to the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project. In fact, about 12% of art grads start nonprofits, and most are self-employed for at least part of their career.
For instance, both the University of Michigan and the University of North Carolina (UNC) School of the Arts in Winston-Salem offer certificates in innovation and entrepreneurship and challenge students to create business proposals that relate to their art interests. Both universities also offer microgrants for students hoping to put on shows or festivals and for students aiming to start a business or organization with a high social impact.
“What’s interesting about it is that most students, including myself, didn’t realize entrepreneurship skills could be used to start nonprofits that aim to do good,” says Melissa Coppola, a graduate student at Michigan who founded Girls Rock Detroit, a nonprofit funded by a venture-capital style grant from the university.
Carnegie Mellon University and Rutgers University also blend professional performance training with entrepreneurial skills. Syracuse University emphasizes networking and even moves senior drama students to New York for a semester-long program. “We want them to get direct exposure to people who have the best knowledge of how to create a career—and a leg up,” says Ralph Zito, Syracuse’s Drama Department Chair.
Other universities, like Northwestern University, forego lessons on career planning and stick with a traditional arts program sprinkled with a few liberal arts courses. “Artists need to understand who they are as thinking members of society,” says David Bell, Head of Northwestern’s Musical Theater program. “You can’t assume they know that at 18.”
Still, the discipline that comes with training for a performance or running a production may be just as valuable as a formal business education, argues Lindsay Bierman, Chancellor of UNC’s School of the Arts. “When the curtain goes up, there’s no ‘the dog ate my homework,'” he says. “We don’t do a good job of helping arts students understand that their skills apply broadly” (Mullaney, CNBC, 11/20).