In defense of the arts: a worthy investment

Category:  The Arts
Wednesday, April 5th, 2017 at 8:15 PM
In defense of the arts: a worthy investment by Gabriel Hypes

A world without art would be a bland world. An art school without art wouldn’t make sense, but a school without art would free up a lot of money.

Finances, and the enrollment associated with such cash, is under great scrutiny here in Pennsylvania schools, and more specifically Edinboro University.

What we know is the art department at Edinboro accounts for a lot of students, coming in at 12,011 credit hours out of the 58,994 in the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences in the 2015-2016 school year, according to information compiled by the recent Edinboro working groups.

More students is usually a good thing, but for art students, the reports from those working groups suggest they’re more of a cost than a revenue.

After tuition of undergraduate and graduate students, high cost appropriations and fees, the art department brings in $4.37 million in total revenue. That total is the second highest revenue at Edinboro behind social work.

With this revenue though, comes high expense. In the same year arts brought in $4.37 million, the university spent $5.21 million to keep it running.

Operating at a loss is the usual for Edinboro right now though, being that several majors aren’t bringing in enough to be profitable.

What it boils down to is that art students cost a lot to educate and more recently, more than state schools are given in funding.

It’s one of the things looked at with the recent buzz of school closings. There is a lot of discussion about how to fix this issue, but no real answers have been given.

Shelle Barron, a graphic and interactive design professor at Edinboro, provided some insight on the issue, being very vocal about the subject of the art department and very passionate about the program she has been involved with for over 20 years. 

Edinboro was not the starting line for Barron. “I have taught at other schools; schools with a larger endowment than Edinboro,” said Barron. “But I love Edinboro students more than any other.” She touched on how passionate Edinboro students are and how that made them more unique compared to other schools. 

Barron feels like it is getting harder and harder for students to convince their parents that they want to study art. She wanted to make Edinboro a place that lower and middle class kids could get an education that would position them to find their profession in the “art and design world,” like a bigger, more expensive university would.

“Pennsylvania wants us to be money-making, but we are not here to be money makers. We are here to serve the students that come here to be taught,” Barron said. “Instead of giving a complete education in the best way we can, we start to think of majors that can be monetized. Thinking what can we do to have the most majors at the lowest cost and that’s a big mistake.”

When talking about solutions to the state’s issues, Barron says that it pretty much all boils down to funding from the state. She said that there isn’t much they can change or do in the art department.

“The art fee is not a fee (like one would pay for withdrawing a class) it’s a fee for not having overbooked classes,” Barron said. “If I taught 40 students in an environment like this no one would learn anything. By having smaller classes, we have a much higher FTE.”

FTE, or full time equivalent, is a unit that tells the workload of a faculty member or student. A higher FTE means more work and a lower FTE means less work.

Barron is right; the art department has the highest FTE by a long shot at 39.4. The next closest major would be social work, the most profitable major at Edinboro, with 22.6 FTE.

Barron understands that the art department takes a lot to run, more than Edinboro has to give. That is the least of all her concerns.

She knows the facts and numbers, but feels they aren’t important. Giving the best education she possibly can that will prepare her students for their careers is her number one priority.

“Our students deserve the best education we can offer, and we try to do that with every student everyday for a lower cost than almost every other art and design college or university,” said Barron.

With such a huge issue facing a large majority of the university, students all around the department have expressed their fears at Edinboro.

Shelby Kirk, a junior graphic design major, credits almost everything she has worked for to Edinboro.

“Without Edinboro, my future would not look half as bright as I think that it currently does,” said Kirk. “In the competitive art world, your work and your portfolio are everything.”

She continued: “It should be able to get you into a room and speak for you once you are there. Edinboro stands amongst the top design schools when it comes to the bodies of design work that come out of here. If it weren’t for this curriculum and the set of resources provided for me here, I would not have the work that I am able to have today.” 

A common theme among students was their appreciation for their professors.

“The professors are very knowledgeable and experienced within their field; they truly care abut how their students do and always guide them towards success,” Kevin Motko, junior graphic design major, stated.

“I feel more prepared for my future career by having the support of Edinboro’s great art faculty.”

Beyona Eckstein, a junior art education major, said, “As for the professors, they push each student differently; they take the time to get to know their students, to know their strengths and weaknesses, helping to extend the knowledge of each student.” Eckstein also touched on how the art program’s many clubs have given her many great experiences.

“The art program has great clubs that help you travel to conferences. These conferences provide me with contacts, information and knowledge about my degree and what I want to do after college,” she said.

Coming from a student that is about to graduate with a job almost locked up, Haley Justice, a senior traditional animation major, has made most of her contacts for jobs through Edinboro. “Edinboro’s art program sent me to CTN this year, which is a huge animation conference in Burbank, California,” Justice said.

“From there, thanks to our alumni and the animation professors, they introduced me to industry professionals from studios such as Warner Brothers, Disney T.V., Nickelodeon, Sony and many more.”

She continued: “I have then kept in contact with them and plan to meet back up with a list of them when I move out there this summer. Without a doubt, because of the connections I’ve made through the professors I’ve met through our art program, I will get a job. That’s the name of the game and means everything to me.”

“Edinboro is alive and a name on the map because of the art program,” Justice claimed.

A lot of people agree with Justice that Edinboro is an art school above anything else. Others, however, think it is something that is holding the school back from being more profitable. Whatever side you fall on, we are going to find out what will happen to the arts at Edinboro soon enough.

The numbers that we know look dismal. From the information we have received from the school, we know that the art school spends more than they bring in. What the decision boils down to is if the arts are seen as worth it.

Gabriel Hypes is the assistant arts editor for The Spectator. He can be reached at 

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