EMU makes the Atlantic’s list of “U.S. Colleges and Majors that Are the Biggest Waste of Money”… and it’s total bullshit

A friend in Portland sent me a text this morning. He wanted to let me know that Eastern Michigan University (EMU) had made a list in the Atlantic. Sadly, it’s a list of universities that are the biggest waste of money. Specifically, they claim data exists to show that Art majors graduating from EMU will never make enough to justify the $93,840 cost of their four-year degree. (That, according to their research, is the four-year in-state cost for those not receiving scholarships, etc.)

As I’m not a statistician, and as I haven’t seen the raw data they’re basing their analysis on, I don’t feel up to the task of debating the issue, but, as it seems that their findings are based on self-reported data submitted by way of a website called PayScale.com, my sense is that it’s probably not the most academically rigorous of studies. They don’t, for instance, even say how many graduates of the EMU Art program contributed their earning data, and for how many years post graduation. So, this finding of theirs, as I understand it, could be based on one student who entered his/her earnings for just the first year out of school, which one would assume to be low. And, of course, as entries are anonymous and unverified, it’s conceivable that this is all fiction to begin with. (I can’t even find “Art” listed as one of the majors tracked on the PayScale.com page for EMU.) But, as it was posted on the internet, and is now being shared widely on Facebook, it’s something that we need to at least acknowledge and discuss.

Personally, I think that EMU would have cause to go after PayScale.com, and the Atlantic, for releasing this nonsense as though it’s fact, but, for the sake of argument, let’s say it’s true. Let’s say, as they suggest, that graduates of the EMU undergraduate art program, after 20 years time, are -$118,000 worse off than high school graduates who chose not to attend college, which I believe is their contention… So what?

I object to the whole underlying premise that all academic pursuits should be boiled down to their earning potential. Given the state of today’s economy, I know students need to give some thought as to how they’ll pay their bills after graduation, but I don’t accept the notion that we shouldn’t teach art as it doesn’t make people wealthy. A culture that thinks that way, in my opinion, is doomed… And, perhaps more importantly, an artist who gets into the field to make a lot of cash likely doesn’t have anything very interesting to say with his or her work in the first place.


update: Colin Blakely, the head of the EMU Art Department, has responded to this article. Here’s his letter to the Atlantic:

I work in a university art department. In the current climate of emphasis on STEM-based education and employment rates upon graduation as a critical metric in determining the effectiveness of University programs, I am used to feeling like my educational values are at odds with the conventional wisdom. So I was not surprised to see that Arts majors were nowhere to be found in The Atlantic’s article “Which College- and Which Major- Will make You Richest?” (nobody goes into the arts to become rich). Nor did I react with anything more than resignation when the companion article “These U.S. Colleges and Majors are the Biggest Waste of Money” prominently featured majors in the Arts. However, I was unprepared for the double shot of seeing the Arts majors at my own institution make the top of the list. A simultaneous attack on both the discipline and the institution that I have come to love and believe in wholeheartedly took some time to get over. It didn’t make sense. Every day I experience first-hand the quality of our programs and the faculty that breathe life into them. I see the perseverance of our students in their ability to become masters of their chosen tools and solve complex problems with an amazing degree of originality. I watch as our graduates go on to successful jobs at prestigious design firms, public education institutions, and blue chip corporations such as IBM or Whole Foods. Many progress quickly out of entry-level positions into managerial ones, or become entrepreneurs. How do I reconcile this day to day experience with an assessment that claims a major in this same department to be not only worthless, but in fact a “waste of money.”

I’ve looked at PayScale’s data collection and reporting methods. It would be easy to take comfort in picking apart this data and declaring it flawed and/or irrelevant. The return on investment calculations used as the foundation for the article are based on the earnings potential of someone who graduated in 1994. I could thus simply assume that our department today is not the same one it was back then. We’ve added a Professional Practices/Capstone class that helps students focus on the tools they need for successful careers. We’ve developed a closer relationship with the Career Development Center. In addition, I suspect that the sample size used to make this calculation (EMU Arts majors graduating in 1994 who responded to the salary survey) is sufficiently small as to create heavily skewed or even irrelevant results. In short, I don’t believe for one second in the validity of our ranking.

However, none of this solves what I see as the bigger problem: the arts are currently under fire in higher education. The number of majors is dropping nation-wide. We are literally the butt of jokes: our own nation’s president has taken a jab at the Art History major by using it as an example of what he sees as the antithesis of a high-paying major. There is a national conversation going on about the importance of teaching employable skills to college students, and the arts are nowhere to be found.

Some of this is our own fault. As educators we take for granted the skills our graduates possess. I’m not talking about the ability to effectively handle paint or mold from clay, but the more transferable skills. For example, a prowess with visual communication (we live in a world where image is everything), creative problem solving, critical thinking, dealing effectively with ambiguity, problem solving through experimentation, inventing new ways to work within existing systems. In short, they possess the ability to take any given situation and look at it not for what it is, but what it could be: an ability to imagine the possibilities. Any employer would put these qualities high on a list of things they look for in an employee, and these are all things that come second-nature to a student in the arts. However, it is less common to find students with the explicit knowledge that they possess these skills. This is where we as educators come in.

We’ve done incredible work in helping our students along, but seem to have fallen short in one critical area: teaching them to imagine the possibilities for themselves. When someone asks me what they can do with an art major, my response is simple: anything you want. This answer is of course both inspiring and infuriating. But then, as I’ve already mentioned, artists are pretty good at dealing with ambiguity.

-Colin Blakely
Professor and Department Head
Art Department
Eastern Michigan University

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  1. Posted March 27, 2014 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

    I should note that I sent word out to four of five professors in the EMU Art program who I know personally, asking that they weigh in. Thus far, none of them have. If they do, I will update this post.

  2. Posted March 27, 2014 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    Also, I’d love to know the sample size they based this assessment of the Art school on. As I mentioned, looking over their site, I couldn’t find any specifics on EMU Art school grads. I did, however, see their information on the graduates of other EMU programs, and, for the most part, the sample sizes were incredibly small. For instance, their assessment on the value of an EMU degree in Elementary Education was based on just 5 anonymous individuals having input their current earnings. Given that Elementary Education is one of EMU’s largest programs, I find it laughable that they’d claim to glean any insight from five unverified entries, but I suppose that’s what passes for research these days on the internet.

  3. Posted March 27, 2014 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    One last thing… My wife is a graduate of the undergraduate art program at EMU and makes a decent living as a graphic designer. And I suspect that she’s not alone. I doubt, however, that people with busy lives have time to visit sites like PayScale.com and share their annual earning numbers.

  4. Posted March 27, 2014 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

    Its really too bad such an awesome program is being put into such a negative light.
    I didnt know we had to report to payscale after graduation. My data probably would have made it worse for the program. All of my post-undergraduate (and many other recent grads) art involvement is purely volunteer work to help build a really cool, artsy community. I doubt they pull data for “sense of community” and happiness.
    I’ve only been out of school for a year (i technically graduate at the end of april). I’ll let you know if i wished i had stopped at my high school diploma in 19 years.

  5. jcp2
    Posted March 28, 2014 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    I’ve had a chance to look at the original pay scale.com website, and I agree that at that fine granular level that The Atlantic “reports” on (probably somebody moving some spreadsheet columns around), there is most likely insufficient data to say that an EMU Arts degree is a poor choice to pursue.

    However, there are interesting things to be found in the website. For instance, the cost of a degree is weighted for the average time to graduation for a full time student. Looking at the public universities in Michigan, it is then apparent that the typical U of M graduate spends 4 years in school, the typical MSU graduate 4.5 years, and the typical EMU graduate 5 years. WMU seems to come out at 7 years.

    The ROI calculation includes the opportunity costs of college attendance, so that lost income from working right out of high school is also included. It also only includes the income of those students that actually graduated. This is not such a big deal for U of M students, of which 91% receive a degree within 4 years, but is a huge bias for EMU students, of which only 37% seem to graduate within 5 years.

    What The Atlantic should have reported on are these three things:

    1) Post secondary educational costs are extremely expensive. The inflation rate based on the CPI from when I graduated university over two decades ago to today is 78%. The increase in in state tuition for EMU over that same time period is 270%.

    2) We are doing a poor job of matriculating students into college. Aside from U of M or MSU, the remainder of Michigan colleges have a mediocre to abysmal graduation rate. Maybe college isn’t for everybody, but this is a big deal because of:

    3) The lost students are completely unaccounted for in these data (and maybe cannot be accounted for, given the data set available), but any institution that may have loaned them money is certainly keeping track of them, as student educational debt is non-dischargable through bankruptcy. The only way to get out of default is to pay or die. Literally.

  6. Posted March 28, 2014 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    I think it’s probably correct to say that an nearly six figure art degree from a small state school is a pretty serious waste of money from a financial standpoint.

    But people have certainly been known to do crazier things to make themselves happy.

    At the same time, costs for education are far too high. That art degree should cost a quarter that amount. In 1990, when I went to WCC, I could buy a single credit hour for five hours of work washing dishes in a kitchen. Now, that same credit hour would cost me at least 20 hours.

  7. Posted March 28, 2014 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    Sorry, I should correct the above. It would take approximately 12 hours of dishwashing work to pay for an in district credit hour at WCC. That’s more than twice the work required in 1990.


    “I object to the whole underlying premise that all academic pursuits should be boiled down to their earning potential.”

    I do, if the price is so ridiculously high.

    Six figures is too much money to pay for art. Cut that cost to a quarter of that, say $25,000 and I don’t think it’s unreasonable.

  8. Mr. X
    Posted March 28, 2014 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    It’s not a “six figure” degree, Peter. According to the site, a four-year degree at EMU is $93,840. That’s five figures. And very few of the folks I’ve met at EMU pay full freight. Most have scholarships or assistance in some form.

  9. Dan
    Posted March 28, 2014 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    I think calling it a “waste of money” is probably why you have a problem with this list.

    As Peter mentions, from a financial standpoint, spending $93,840 on an art degree is very foolish. It might not be a “waste” of your money if you have a love for the arts, but from an financial standpoint, it’s a terrible investment.

  10. Posted March 28, 2014 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    $93,840 is six figures to me after the interest payments start rolling in.

    And though many people may obtain scholarships and grants (tax funded, by the way, there’s no such thing as a free lunch), often being in school precludes working full time, so that the costs of getting a degree are largely wrapped up in foregone earnings.

    So, yes, I stick with six figures. A six figure art degree, while personally satisfying, is a terrible financial investment.

    Schools do far too little to educate students on the true costs of their education. An approach which better informs students of job market prospects, costs and benefits would be welcome. “Pursue your dreams” is fine if it is cheap and financially unrisky to do so.

    The problem is that schools have no interest in the financial futures of their students.

  11. anonymous
    Posted March 28, 2014 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    Does no one go to college anymore because they love a subject desperately and want to become expert in a given field? Have we gotten to the point as a society where all that matters if financial return on investment? I understand that one needs to make a living, but, from what I’m hearing here, many feel as though universities should stop teaching poetry, creative writing, painting, etc, and focus instead on investment banking and computer programming because, at the moment, that’s what the people with the money value. That’s F’d up.

  12. Posted March 28, 2014 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    Full disclosure:

    I have a German Literature degree from the UM and Masters in Mathematics from EMU. Both were extremely useful, but neither were reasonable financial investments on their own, given the financial costs.

  13. Posted March 28, 2014 at 8:40 am | Permalink


    I just think it should be cheaper. It’s too expensive.

  14. Jcp2
    Posted March 28, 2014 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    It’s not just the expense alone. It’s the non-dischargeable nature of the debt. Even if you bought a property on a subprime NINJA loan, if it doesn’t work out, you can walk away with a tarnished credit history, but try to start over. Now imagine a monthly student loan payment of $100/month per $10,000 borrowed for the next 20 years after graduation, no matter what happens, and that is a lot of pressure. The average debt of an EMU graduate is similar to the national average at $25,000. That’s a monthly nut of $250 to crack.

  15. Posted March 28, 2014 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    Paying $250 a month on a $25,000 loan for 10 years with 7% interest, means that you will end up paying nearly $35,000 back.

    It’s criminal.

  16. shankwiler
    Posted March 28, 2014 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    Nearly every student I know who graduated from Eastern Michigan with an arts degree, including my grandmother, were hugely successful in their artistic pursuits. Now,I’m not saying that we have a bunch of artists here with moolah falling out of their pockets… but I am saying that Ypsilanti (in my eyes) is a breeding ground for creative genuis.

  17. Catherine Pappas
    Posted March 28, 2014 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    I couldn’t agree more with your assessment, Mark. Also, as the daughter of a retired EMU Art professor – and still actively working Sculptor, I can tell you that he is the last person that would submit data for any type of survey. I would believe this to be true for his artist friends and former students, as well. They are more interested in creating art and teaching than doing any sort of paper work.

  18. Posted March 28, 2014 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    I am always interested that people take these types of assessments so personally.

    The issue is the cost.

  19. Catherine Pappas
    Posted March 28, 2014 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    My comments were made in response to the “self reporting” aspect of the survey.

  20. Frosted Flakes
    Posted March 28, 2014 at 1:35 pm | Permalink


    I have never heard of someone going into a college art program for the sake of gaining wealth.

    It doesn’t sound like a very scientific study at all, but, I don’t think we really need a study to assess whether or not spending 93k on an art degree from EMU is a risky financial decision. It is an extremely risky investment!

    College has become too expensive and I feel very sorry for most college students now because the average college age kid does not have the PRIVILEGE of following their impulses with regard to their studies. Given the real expense of college now, not considering the return on investment is foolish for the average student and their families.

    It is not in the interest of the art teachers to inform students that they are lacking in talent. Art teachers benefit from students who are, irresponsibly in my opinion, not realistically assessing the effect the cost of their program will have on their future lives… It would be much more compassionate if they lined up the art students like they do on “American Idol” and told the truth!!! If you can’t sing you are not going to Hollywood!!!

    The high cost of college will squeeze a lot of points of view out of art college programs, unfortunately. College art programs (more than ever) will increasingly be filled with the kids from relatively “well off” families.

    I think your response to this assessment is a bit off base, Mark. Art is important but it is not hard to see there a lot of real circumstances where paying 93k for your child’s art education at emu is irresponsible, or at best, highly risky. The level of risk is relative to your circumstances and relative place of privilege.

    The real issue is the cost of a degree. Part of me appreciates the “Atlantic list” because making such a list implies an underlying sensitivity to the circumstances which might make spending that kind of money on art school a real risk for a lot of families.

  21. tommy
    Posted March 28, 2014 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    Do Art majors at U-M have a better return on their ‘investment’? I doubt it. The issue is cost; it is not what field the degree is in.

  22. Frosted Flakes
    Posted March 28, 2014 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    My belief that college is now so expensive that it has become a risky investment does not only apply to EMU and art programs. I did not mean to imply that there is anything wrong with EMU or EMU’s art program. The cost is unreasonable at this point and EMU is one of the more affordable schools.

    Also, I don’t even believe college should be thought of as an “investment” (in an ideal world) but it is so expensive at this point in time, I think people from an average or below average income are forced to think of it as an investment.

  23. Dan
    Posted March 28, 2014 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    UM’s Return on Investment for an “arts” degree ranks 15th on Payscale’s list with a 6.2% annual ROI. EMU ranks 267th, with an annual ROI of <-21.9% (which is the lowest number listed.

  24. Posted March 29, 2014 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    I often find it interesting that liberals/progressives/whatever would disparage the idea of college as an investment while railing on things like income inequality.

    While I like the idea of people happily doing whatever they like without a care for income, I certainly didn’t have that luxury. I went to school to get out of the depths of poverty, not as a means to delude myself that I was happy while still struggling to pay for basic expenses.

    College should be cheaper, more accessible and colleges should be more proactive at finding ways to help students maximize BOTH the financial and personal returns on an investment of time and money in an education.

    But there’s no reason to glorify a paltry or stagnant income or gloss over the implications. While living on nothing and doing art might be great and fun in one’s 20’s, it’s going to blow when one gets sick, has kids or has to care for a dying relative, just like it totally blows every single day for the millions of poor Americans hobbling by on multiple minimum wage jobs.

    “<-21.9%"!!!?? Even if one got more grads to report income here, I bet it's going to be really hard to get that negative number of 0 (break even).

    6.2% is even low, some middle risk bond/real estate investments will pay that much. You could take the money you'd spend on an arts degree, throw it into some decent long term investments and be able to fund an arts career down the line on your own.

    <-21.9% is horribly embarrassing. EMU charges too much money and should be ashamed. Move those arts programs to cheaper community colleges or even community education programs. I bet you could provide the same type of arts education for a quarter of the price EMU charges, while still paying staff the same wage.

    I'm strongly supportive of art, but I'm really not supportive of state sponsored shake downs of young, inexperienced students.

  25. Posted March 29, 2014 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    My apologies for the (more than usual) rambling nature of the above post.

  26. Posted March 29, 2014 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    I’m looking at other schools here. It’s interesting. 6.2% isn’t bad at all compared to other schools.

    Michigan has an overall >10 return, though.

    But…… we’re not supposed to think about money.

  27. Posted March 29, 2014 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    “But…… we’re not supposed to think about money.”

    It was advice like that, which came from all sources, family, friends seeking miserable company and even advisers and teachers at the University of Michigan itself., which expanded my student loan debt on a financially worthless degree in the 90’s.

  28. Frosted Flakes
    Posted March 29, 2014 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    I agree 100 percent with everything Peter has said here.

    I also like Art and Culture.

  29. Ypsiosaurus Rex
    Posted March 29, 2014 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Mark: it’s so cute how sensitive you are when anything Ypsi gets criticized.

    ART is a great thing. And for many it is worth pursuing. But for MANY more it is a very poor financial decision if they want to live above the poverty line. A realistic cost/benefit analysis should be done for any program at any school. Call me a “dream crusher” but students should have a realistic understanding of their earning potential before signing on the dotted line. From there they can make their own decision.

    Perhaps Mark can start organizing weekly eating competitions to help subsidize the ART of low income EMU grads.

  30. Frosted Flakes
    Posted March 30, 2014 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    In addition to all the great points made by Peter I would like to throw this out there: What happens to our economy if a great amount of student debt (over a trillion dollars) 1) is severely delinquent; 2) forces people to default on other loans; 3) is not paid off before the person/ student dies? I am not economist but the “don’t worry about the cost just follow your dreams” sort of advice which is given to students, seems to be very irresponsible advice as college becomes more and more expensive.

  31. Lynne
    Posted March 31, 2014 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    I can honestly say that my ROI for my degree at EMU has been negative, i.e. I would be financially ahead if I never went in that my current job doesn’t require the degree I got so I’ve had zero net gain. It was still worth it to me though just so that when I get into an argument with someone on the internet and they say to me, “What do you know about economics?” , I can say “Only what I learned getting a degree in it” Seriously, worth EVERY penny. No loans for me though because unlike the typical EMU grad who takes 5 years, I took longer.

  32. Posted March 31, 2014 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    It’s hard to say what my ROI on my EMU degree is, given that it was a stepping stone to pursuing other degrees. If I had stopped with the EMU degree, it would most certainly be negative.

  33. art prof
    Posted March 31, 2014 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    I looked for some time at payscale.com and something is super fishy about that site. EMU’s BFA isn’t even listed as a degree. With only ten or eleven people reporting their wages for some positions, I’m pretty confused as to how this is any kind of scientific data that the Atlantic should be referencing. It reminds me a lot of many of the problems with the subjectivity involved with Rate My Professor.

    Also if you go directly to EMU’s website, you’ll see that it doesn’t actually cost on average what is reported in terms of a final degree cost, mostly because we’re a heavily commuter-based campus. Very few of our students live in the dorms or campus apartments.

    Here’s a link:

    EMU also has a lot of transfer students. I would be interested in seeing how that factor weighs into the computations (which are not at all transparent).

  34. Amy Sacksteder
    Posted March 31, 2014 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    That’s me up there: art prof. I’m an Associate Professor in the Art Department at EMU. Mark quoted from an email I sent him in response to his article. I don’t necessarily need to be anonymous; I just wanted for our Department Head to be able to respond in a more official capacity first, and now he has done so, quite eloquently.

    I just want to add that I’m incredibly proud of our department (faculty, staff, students, and programs) as well. Has anyone looked at our website lately? http://art.emich.edu

  35. Decky
    Posted April 1, 2014 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    Is Colin’s response in the Atlantic or did you just post it here?

  36. phil
    Posted April 1, 2014 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    The knee jerk reaction that an education shouldn’t have to have an ROI to be beneficial is besides the point. The point is more so that the perceived value of an art degree from EMU is much lower than that of a similar program at another university. I’m not saying that the sample used is proportionate, or that the return reflects recent EMU grads relative to those who graduated in 1994.

    Maybe the art department should focus more on creating a better value for students. Alternatively, the problem could be that the public doesn’t recognize the value provided by an EMU art degree. Maybe the art department should find ways to convince the public that a BFA from EMU is as valuable as one from UofM.

  37. Mark Higbee
    Posted April 1, 2014 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    EMU has a superb art department, with great faculty, who teach brilliantly and effectively, to countless students. That’s what I’ve heard from EMU students over the years. Many EMU students make lives and careers in the arts — and people who go into the arts aren’t seeking to get rich. Rather, they want to be creative and useful, while making a living. And they do! Isn’t being creative and useful what we should all aspire to?
    I am proud of my colleagues in art at EMU and proud of EMU’s art students.

  38. Posted April 1, 2014 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Higbee, please go over to where the discussion of “what is a democracy?” is happening and comment in the form of James Madison.

  39. EOS
    Posted April 1, 2014 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    Please don’t. James Madison’s own words are in both videos. We don’t need anyone’s revisionist history.

  40. Posted April 1, 2014 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Higbee, please do.

    It would be entertaining.

  41. MCpants
    Posted April 1, 2014 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    You never met an art major who went to college to make money? BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! What? Sorry but this EMU art major went to college to increase my bank account… period. Why else would I have subjected myself to credit after credit of Wasted Time & Money 101. College, especially art programs, are a scam. I am a working artist now, but no thanks to EMU. I had to train myself after college. I took classes at WCC that made Eastern look like a ghetto high school in Highland Park.

  42. Frosted Flakes
    Posted April 1, 2014 at 10:33 pm | Permalink


    I think you are minimizing the real issue actually. It is not merely a “knee jerk response” when mark and other posters rail against thinking of education as an investment. Rather, their opinion mirrors REAL structures in place at a university like EMU that communicates (in its own structures and policies) this very same notion to individual students. Please correct me if I am wrong but EMU is not selective in terms of admission, and does not, in general, rigorously filter people out by assigning failing grades in any sort rigorous way. It is relatively hard to be dismissed from EMU because of performance. Further, I would be willing to bet that EMU faculty and counsellors are just as bad as any college I have ever attended at communicating realistic expectations to its at-risk-of-not-getting-a-positive-return-on-one’s-investment-students!

    The existence of easy entrance and hard to fail out of universities has a real and important place in society–BUT NOT AT THESE PRICES FOR MANY STUDENTS!

    I apologize if my view is overly cynical but many colleges seem to be run like businesses that are insensitive to the very real issue of expected ROI. At more prestigious schools their is at least the threat of “loss of prestige” for the university, which might keep them in check..it is far more cruel to allow a flailing student with low expected ROI to go to school and pass through with ease than to not admit them in in the first place or to dismiss them for sub par performance. Perhaps one of the EMU professors could explain what mechanisms are in place at EMU to communicate expected ROI to INDIVIDUAL students–especially those at risk students….I like to think there are mechanisms built in but I, for one, from the perspective of a once college student, have not encountered any such mechanisms…

    Their is no doubt in my mind that the vast majority of students are receiving a good opportunity for an education at EMU. I don’t believe you need to go to an expensive university to get a great education, or encounter quality professors and students, because it ultimately is the responsibility of the student to GET their educationregardless of the “reputation” of the institution. I also know successful graduates from The EMU art program, but I do wonder about the graduates that are not making a living in their chosen field–perhaps some of the professors or Alumni could speak from their unique perspective about those that did not become successful AND ARE LIKELY SADDLED WITH DEBT. THe Atlantic list obviously had an unfair and unnecessarily inflamatory title because it seems to be disparaging to EMU in an unfair way but I have no doubt that the list was formed with an underlying sensitivity to students at risk of not getting a positive return on their investment. I would like to think that faculty or alumni of emu art program would speak about THOSE students when the issue is raised but instead we are given a flowery and proud speeches about department successes. Even if this seemingly unscientific study is off by -21 percent there is still an issue here and it is not a MARKETING problem for goodness sake.

  43. Posted April 2, 2014 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    I have to say that Dr. Higbee’s defensive comments were somewhat disappointing and might be offered as an example of the disconnect between faculty and the financial realities of the student body.

    Higbee is obviously of the “pursue your dreams” school seemingly unaware that the dreams of a 20 year old and the everyday experience of a 45 year old with a mortgage and children are vastly different.

    The issue is not whether EMU arts faculty and programs are “good” or “bad,” but rather that collegiate education is simply too expensive, particularly for the demographic which EMU serves.

    EMU is too expensive. I know very little about how the intricacies of finances of academic institutions so I have nothing constructive to add here, but I might look at ways of cutting costs, and then transferring that savings on to students.

  44. EOS
    Posted April 2, 2014 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    EMU does not have high standards for acceptance and does not rigorously fail those who enroll, yet their graduation rate is dismal. That someone might incur a six digit tuition bill for a 4 year art degree where there is a small chance that the degree will facilitate higher future earnings is a concern for taxpayers who provide a large amount of financial aid for this endeavor.

  45. Posted April 2, 2014 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    To me, though I find the ROI on an “arts” degree at EMU in this particular analysis to be dismal at best, the issue, again, isn’t about “arts” vs. engineering or business or law, but that all of these degrees are far too expensive and a school like EMU, which, to it’s credit, offers educational opportunities to disadvantaged individuals and to “second chancers,” should be more proactive about making their educational programs affordable. Again, Mr. Higbee’s very defensive comments (“Don’t pick on my friends!”) were very disappointing.

    It’s worth noting that if an “arts” degree from EMU were a tenth the cost it is now, the ROI on that degree would be far higher.

    I think that artists, who certainly comprise a minority of of degree recipients and workers, benefit society in ways which are difficult to quantify. Not everyone is going to be an engineer and not everyone should be. No doubt, many of Michigan’s economic problems stem from a lack of diversification.

  46. Frosted Flakes
    Posted April 2, 2014 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    The expected ROI is probably positive for many students. I would expect that say 1/3 of the students are way too bright and energetic to fail. I am not really concerned about the cost of EMU for those students. It is likely a very good investment for many. It is the other students that are “at risk” of not getting a positive ROI that really concern me. Easy admission and passing under performing students along to the next semester is cruel at these prices because it gives the illusion to students that they are on a path toward at least minimal success.

    Does EMU collect data on their graduates that would accurately give ROI numbers that could be broken down by department? It would be insanely irresponsible if there was not some internal method of measuring ROI. I would think that information would be a first step in giving individual students a clearer idea of what their INDIVIDUAL expectations for a future might be. I mean, I really wouldn’t be surprised if the lower 1/3 of students in emu art program had a negative ROI much, much lower than those reported on Payscale….

  47. Posted April 2, 2014 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    I don’t think that schools like EMU are interested in what happens to students after they leave school.

    I know that some of the faculty, who exist on steady paychecks with excellent benefit packages and a guarantee of lifetime employment, aren’t in the least bit interested. In fact, it doesn’t even seem to occur to many of them.

  48. Frosted Flakes
    Posted April 2, 2014 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    The comments left by faculty, those connected to faculty, and Mark’s post itself leads me to believe that you are right in your assessment, Peter. The failure on their part to acknowledge the real issue is disturbing.

  49. Posted April 2, 2014 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    It truly is disturbing.

  50. Rosie
    Posted April 2, 2014 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    Mark/Amy – you out there…? (insert sound of crickets chirping)

  51. jcp2
    Posted April 2, 2014 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    An article far more to the point:


  52. Anonymous
    Posted April 2, 2014 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    We should close down every university that isn’t Ivy League. Education should be for the ruling class!

    You people are about as stupid on this topic as you were when you protested the fundraiser at the Wurst Bar that raised thousands of dollars for children’s art programs.

    Is education expensive? Yes. Doe EMU deserve to be singled out because a handful of people filled out an anonymous survey saying that they earned poor wages after graduating from the school? No.

    You can’t have an art department that guarantees that graduates will become successful artists. That’s not how art works.

    I will agree, however, that lowering standards in order to fill classrooms is an ugly business. If that’s happening, and if they know they’re allowing in people who likely will never be able to pay back their loans, that’s bad. I’m not convinced that EMU is guilty of that though.

  53. Posted April 2, 2014 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    Your comment is interesting.

    First, EMU doesn’t have to “lower standards” since it is an open enrollment school, as it should be. So yes, they are allowing in people who likely will never be able to pay back their loans, but, again, the issue is that the school is just too expensive. If it were a cheaper school, people could exit with a more manageable level of debt.

    Second, I personally don’t think that EMU is any more guilty of fleecing its students than, say Western, Central, Northern or Wayne State or, for that matter, ueber expensive University of Michigan. Education is too expensive. In fact, it’s prohibitively expensive.

    I went to WCC beginning in 1990. At the time, it cost me about 5 hours worth of dishwashing work to pay for a single credit hour. I paid out of pocket for my first two years. I received no financial aid.

    My opinion is that it doesn’t matter whether EMU has “fine, committed faculty”, or is a “good” school or offers art degrees or engineering classes. It’s simply too expensive for people to reasonably afford now.

    And this is interesting:

    “We should close down every university that isn’t Ivy League. Education should be for the ruling class!”

    In fact, I think that many people are saying the opposite. I know I am. Education should be for everyone at any stage of life. To me, it should be free for everyone or at least not require going tens of thousands of dollars into debt.

  54. Posted April 2, 2014 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    People are idiots.

    I was taking Journalism classes, learning about cold lead, hot leads, and editor desk workflows while interning at a magazine that ran everything on Macintosh computers. College is outdated sometimes but every professor I interacted with had field experience and the liberal arts education I earned was worth every penny (then, about $25,000).

    I have worked on Wall Street for near a decade now after building and selling two companies of my own. If money is all it’s about, I’ll be glad to compare tax returns with the numbnuts who put that article together.

    Sean Dykhouse
    Class of 1995
    Huron and Eagle

  55. Frosted Flakes
    Posted April 3, 2014 at 3:25 pm | Permalink


    I would like for EMU to be cheaper and even more accessible to everyone….It is getting more expensive.

    The more expensive that college gets the more it takes on the image of a pyramid marketing scheme.

  56. Posted April 3, 2014 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    “Over the last 20 years, inflation was 64 percent, but tuition increased 233 percent at U-M and 318 percent at Eastern Michigan University. Looking at just the last decade, inflation was 29 percent, while tuition increased 84 percent at U-M and 130.4 percent at EMU.”


  57. Posted April 3, 2014 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    It’s worth noting that the article is from 2010. Costs have since risen again.

  58. Kim
    Posted April 7, 2014 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    “Real Artists Have Day Jobs”


  59. Meta
    Posted April 7, 2014 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    The Guardian on new models for art education.

    A former library in Hackney may seem an unlikely venue for London’s most talked-about new art school. The 1970s Rose Lipman building lacks the architectural wow factor of Central Saint Martins King’s Cross campus, but demand for places on the postgraduate Open School East in De Beauvoir town is high. The year-long programme boasts visiting lecturers, including the curator of contemporary art and performance at Tate Modern, Catherine Wood, and artists such as Pablo Bronstein and Ed Atkins. And, at a time when art MAs in the capital cost up to £9,000 a year, the students pay no tuition fees.

    The project, which opened in September, is the latest alternative art school to be established in the UK. Open School East co-founder Sam Thorne, an associate editor of Frieze magazine, says their recent proliferation has been driven by the rise in fees and a growing disillusionment with university art education. Some, such as the Islington Mill Art Academy in Salford and the School of the Damned in east London, were set up by art students and recent graduates who could not afford rising course fees and were dissatisfied with the structure, ethos and curricula of traditional art degrees.

    In return for a year’s free tuition and studio space, the 13 associate artists at Open School East will give one day a month of their time to community activities in the borough. “Their personal practice might become a community project or they might give lessons, such as dance or furniture design, to local people,” says curator Anna Colin, another co-founder. Many of the school’s lectures and workshops will run in the afternoon and evening to encourage local residents to join in.

    Read more:

  60. Name
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 12:40 am | Permalink

    Not to sound uneducated, but uh, you can suck a dick The Atlantic. Nice looking website by the way. Wonder if the designer you hired graduated from high school with a major in, oh wait you cant major shit in high school you lame fucks.

  61. Jayne
    Posted June 29, 2016 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    EMU grad here, but in the Secondary Ed field… May seem like a side note, but don’t forget that they get around $80 million from the tax payers. Do tax payers feel the investment is worthwhile, even as tuition rates have gone up 83% since 2001? Just thinking out loud…

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] a conversation here on the site about EMU’s Art department. An article had come out claiming that an art degree from EMU is a waste of money. And I took exception to the claim, pointing out where I thought their reasoning was flawed, and […]

  2. By Ypsi/Arbor Exit Interview: Rita Jane Riggs on August 2, 2015 at 9:55 pm

    […] Am I right that you studied art at EMU? What did you take away from that […]

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