Helping arts students get creative with career prep

Business classes, career centers, and outcomes data fuel new efforts

Arts schools are responding to concerns about career prospects and value by investing in career services and innovative curriculums, Samantha Melamed reports for the Philadelphia Inquirer

Several factors are driving the efforts, including an 8.5% unemployment rate among recent college graduates and a growing national conversation around the value of higher education. Kirk Pillow, provost at University of the Arts (UA) in Philadelphia, says his school has focused more on professional development as "people have been asking the question: What is the payoff of an undergraduate education?"

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Adding resources for students

The region's art schools are bulking up their services, Melamed writes. For example, UA partners with Peirce College—just across the street—to offer classes in finance, e-commerce, marketing, and software development.

According to Emma Law, a dance major at UA who's also studying business, it makes sense to have a back-up plan. "Having this knowledge is providing a safety net for me," she tells the Inquirer. Even if she doesn't achieve her dream of becoming a professional dancer, she now feels prepared for alternative careers in the industry, like starting a dance studio.

Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is integrating professional development into its core curriculum, adding a non-credit course for all first-year students on professional development

Greg Martino, who launched the school's career services office four years ago, has found that "most [students] realize they are going to have to be entrepreneurial, and that the old institutions that brought artists along aren't necessarily in place anymore."

Critical for recruitment

Schools are also under more pressure to invest in career services from prospective students and their parents, who worry that a degree in the arts could have poor job prospects. "Parents are very concerned," Martino tells the Inquirer.

At Moore College of Art and Design (Moore), the career center is right next door to the admissions office. "That's by design," says Belena Chapp, the center's director. Chapp notes that Moore has always had a professional focus, but it is working harder to expand its professional development resources, and educate prospective students about the value of a degree.

In recent years, Moore has added a business minor, launched an honors program in entrepreneurship, and required that students participate in an internship. Chapp's office also has begun collecting data on alumni career trajectories, discovering that 96% of 2013 graduates "are employed in their field," says Moore President Cecelia Fitzgibbon.

Creating a 'safety net'

Because art schools have an added burden to demonstrate their value—data place fine arts degrees at or near the bottom of the pay scale—some schools are establishing partnerships with companies that hire art and design students. For example, Temple University's Tyler School of Art (Temple) has forged a relationship with Hallmark, which sends recruiters to the school yearly.

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Temple also has an incubator that coaches students through selling their designs online and in pop-up markets. "The idea was to connect them with the concept that they could be entrepreneurial, that they could create and sell their own work," says Stephanie Knopp, chair of the Department of Graphic Arts and Design.

"Besides pedagogical implications, it's a way of showcasing the brilliant work students do and teaching them the basic business skills they need," she says (Melamed, Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/5).

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