Edinboro MFA program ranked top in US

Category:  The Arts
Wednesday, March 4th, 2020 at 10:30 PM

On Feb. 19, the Edinboro University Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program was named the number one MFA program in the country, according to GradReports, an organization that ranks graduate programs based on statistics from the U.S. Department of Education.

They rank programs based on three things: tuition, median salaries and median debt.

Dr. Terry McKelvey, EU associate professor of art and one of the contact points for the program, said, “This was a surprise to us. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that we are affordable.”

GradReports said that Edinboro’s MFA tuition currently sits at an average of $16,980 a year, whereas The New School, ranked second, is $44,607 per year, and Duke University, ranked third, is $52,617 per year. But the gap could actually be even larger.

“One of the nice things is that students who are accepted into the MFA program receive a graduate assistantship, and that allows them to take up to nine credits a semester without paying tuition,” said McKelvey. Students still have to pay basic fees for their supplies and living costs, but McKelvey explained that, “it roughly covers about 90% of their tuition over the three years of the program,” as they still have to pay for six credits in their second year, where they are required to take 12 credits per semester instead of the nine per semester they take in their first and third years within the program. He added that “they also do a job on campus for which they receive a small stipend, which is just about enough to cover the fees.”

Edinboro’s master’s program is a three-year program, and it offers studio areas in five different concentrations: ceramics, metals, printmaking, painting and sculpture.

“The students who are accepted are given a studio to work in that they have 24-hour access to,” said McKelvey. At the graduate level, these students are expected to do a lot of independent work. He further explained the process: “They meet with faculty in order to discuss their work, and then twice a semester, they have a formal review with a team of faculty who are called their thesis committee.” During these meetings, students are expected to present and give a defense of their work.

Narissa Kennedy is a jewelry and metalsmithing student, currently in her third year of the MFA program. She was featured in our “Artist Spotlight” in Volume 119, Issue 15.

Of the program, Kennedy stated: “It’s very independently driven — you have to be very motivated, but we get a lot of support from our professors. They’re willing to bend over backwards to help us with anything.” She said it works two ways: students let the faculty know what they need, and the faculty do everything they can to help their students.

Kennedy is originally from Wyoming and attended the University of Wyoming for her undergraduate degree, but chose Edinboro for the master’s degree because of the professors.

“I came here to work with Sue (Amendolara) and Cappy (Counard).” She believes that the reason the graduate program is so strong is because the students have a great sense of community, both with the professors and with some of the alumni that still remain involved in the program after they have graduated.

The news of the ranking coincidentally came out just weeks before the Graduate Art Student Presentations (GASP) exhibition on Feb. 27. This event showcased art from the graduating seniors in the master’s program, including Jennifer Lau (M.A. in sculpture), Michael Bishop (MFA in ceramics), Marco Sanchez (MFA in printmaking), Mark Tarabula (MFA in ceramics) and Kennedy. During the presentations, the students had the opportunity to explain the concepts and inspiration behind the art they’ve made throughout their time in the program.

While the master’s program is capped at 21 students, there are currently only 18. McKelvey explained, “We turn people away… we only want to bring people in if we think they can be successful in our program, and as a result of that, we are slightly under enrolled right now.” In addition to being selective, the program has been having a problem similar to ones being faced all over the country, where they are not seeing as many applicants. McKelvey and other professors involved in the program are hoping that the new ranking will bring in more.

In order to apply to the master’s program, McKelvey said there are multiple things a student has to submit, including a college transcript, three letters of recommendation (usually from faculty at their original location of study), an electronic portfolio to be uploaded to Slideroom and an essay. Once all of these things have been submitted, students are then considered for an interview.

McKelvey said there are lots of benefits to attending Edinboro for the advanced fine arts degree.

“While they are here, they benefit from the fact that we have a really large undergrad program, and that all of those undergraduate programs are bringing in speakers and creating departmental opportunities.” Graduate students also have access to traveling funds through the Graduate Professional Development Council. These funds can be used for research — such as attending a conference or visiting an exhibition — and the university finds that these funds are being put to use.

“The MFA students have a pretty high rate within the university’s graduate programs for applying for funding,” said McKelvey. Students are also given multiple opportunities to exhibit their work, both on and off campus, often in Erie or Meadville.

Students who have graduated from the master’s program go on to do a variety of things after they leave. “A number of them come because they’re interested in teaching, and earning their MFA degree allows them to teach at the college level,” McKelvey said.

Those who are interested in going on to teach at the collegiate level often find jobs in academia, he explained. Other students go on to work at art galleries, or on an arts council.

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