According to College Board, data collected from 2017 to 2018 shows that tuition ranges from an average of $9,970/year (public four-year in-state school) to $34,740/year (four-year private non-profit). Now, it doesn’t take a mathematical whiz to understand that after four years, college is ridiculously expensive. So expensive that average households with student debt are carrying about $49,000 and those debt-paying degree holders are shelling out about $350 a month to pay back their loans. Cue the existential dread.
At the end of it, college mostly feels like a one-way transaction where the piece of paper you receive is not necessarily a ticket into the job market, or really any market for that matter. And as a person who went to university, I can attest to this. Not only was my college an absurdly costly, private four-year institution, but also my major—art—was not necessarily considered to set me up for instant financial success.
To my credit, I tried to major in art in the most "practical" way I knew how at the time — go to school in a big city where art is king and internships are aplenty — but it was art school nonetheless. Despite my supportive parents and my university being located in one of the most creative cities in the U.S., I felt fairly lost throughout college and after graduating. I cherished the creative community my university gave me, but was it really possible to hold onto it and my creative dreams after graduating? I wasn't very confident.
In 1922, Franz Kafka wrote "A Hunger Artist," a short story depicting an artist misunderstood by society and generally cast aside — a victim of circumstance perhaps. The protagonist, who starves himself for a living, cannot help but be compared to the "starving artist" of today. A concept all too ubiquitous. As a kid, when my family circled the dinner table announcing our dream professions, my brother, who had just claimed he wanted to be a doctor looked at me and said, "you're going to be a starving artist." Strip away the romanticism of forgoing food for passion and you're left with the depressing insinuation that artists cannot afford to feed themselves perhaps due to a lack of support from society. Now you may scoff at this concept, but consider the fact the current administration proposed to cut all funding for the National Endowment for the Arts in its 2017 budget blueprint. And often, when public schools are tight on extra money, art programs are the first to go. This paints a fairly dismal picture for the future of the arts.
So when Lonny received an invitation to visit Savannah College of Art and Design’s campus in Lacoste, France, I jumped at the opportunity to once again be surrounded by creatives in an academic setting—but this time as an observer. I had heard so much about SCAD's impressive reputation in the art world, specifically its ability to place graduates into prestigious jobs at reputable companies, and wondered: could this be the outlier? Is SCAD setting a new precedent for art institutions? I couldn't wait to find out.
Upon arrival, the beauty of the medieval village in which the college resides immediately whisked me away. It was the end of June and the height of lavender season. The air smelled sweet and the loudest sounds you could hear at night were from the insects. To be in the region of Provence is like being inside an impressionist painting at golden hour while sipping a glass of out-of-this-world rosé and probably being fed grapes by a French-speaker. It is no wonder that so many great artists — Cézanne, van Gogh, Picasso — have lived in the region for a time. It is also no wonder that SCAD would want their creative students to experience such a place.
As we toured the campus, which any student of the university can attend during their undergraduate studies, we came across several alum in residence. There to work on personal projects and business endeavors, these alum clearly all shared a deep appreciation for SCAD and the supportive community it fosters. Each alum iterated how the university pushes its students to express their passions, yet also learn how to turn those passions into profitable businesses. This, a concept so simple, yet so absent from my personal college experience in the arts. Not to mention that SCAD also encourages students to keep in touch with their advisors after they graduate, which naturally, I deemed unfathomable. After all, these graduates are no longer paying customers! For me, this type of perpetual support system is what sets SCAD apart from most other universities, especially those for the arts.
Furthermore, when speaking to SCAD’s president and founder, Paula Wallace, it became abundantly clear that her mission to create a university for the arts that offers a comprehensive list of degrees and a high job-placement rate after graduation is not only a mission, but a reality. In 2017, SCAD claimed that 99% of graduates "were employed, pursuing further education, or both within 10 months of graduation." While the future of the arts remains to be seen, I think it's fair to surmise that with more than 40 majors and over 60 minors, the college that strives to “prepare talented students for professional, creative careers” is gradually changing the once dismal prospective of the art major. And who knows, maybe the term “starving artist” will eventually become extinct. What I do know is we cannot expect art majors to flourish without first providing them with the tools to succeed post-graduation. So at the very least SCAD is moving the needle in the right direction, and that's more than I can say for most universities for the arts.