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The president of Ringling in Sarasota says art college is worth it

Published Sep. 9, 2014

Larry R. Thompson in today's Times:

With tuition costs rising, are private art colleges a good investment?

I'm asked this question all the time. And I'm delighted to answer it.

Last year, the Wall Street Journal published an article decrying art and design schools for racking up high student debt, calling diplomas earned at such institutions "degrees drawn in red ink." They cited the average debt load of graduates of our institution, Ringling College of Art and Design, at $37,500.

If you're a parent reading this and your child is contemplating an art and design career, you're probably choking on your coffee. Many people subscribe to the myth that a degree in the arts will lead to a life of poverty.

They couldn't be more wrong.

Let me give you a sense of how little articles like the Wall Street Journal's do to tell the whole story about the employment prospects, earnings potential and lifetime career flexibility in art and design professions, especially for graduates of nonprofit art colleges accredited by NASAD, the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.

Compare the average return on investment for Ringling College graduates entering high-tech, high-growth creative industries such as video game design, motion design, computer animation and user experience design with those pursuing what many might regard as a more secure path: law (my profession, incidentally).

CNNMoney/ ranked user experience design and video game design among the top 20 careers for 2013, with median salaries of $92,000 and $72,000 respectively and a 10-year projected growth rate of nearly 28 percent. Conversely, Florida law school graduates spend an additional three years in school and, as the Tampa Bay Times reported in July, face declining employment prospects, six-figure debt loads and median starting salaries of about $45,000.

The irony?

Many young people pursuing "safer" degrees such as JDs or MBAs still believe that their six-figure debt loads will be offset by secure corporate jobs and greater earning prospects. But in today's fast-changing, global economy that puts a premium on creativity and innovation, these degrees can be far riskier investments than those in art and design. Keep reading.

What's college for? Also: "Safer" jobs?