The ROI of Creative Education: Let’s Talk

April 5th, 2013 by IMAGE Magazine
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By Dennison W. Griffith

The term “ROI” (return on investment) has entered the realm of higher education with a vengeance.

You can’t have missed it: As U.S. public funding for college education has contracted, students and families are shouldering a much higher portion of the cost — and they’re seeking reassurance that their sacrifice will be worth it.

It’s an eminently reasonable concern. Unfortunately, the recent tsunami of articles, reports, and online discussions has often lost a key nuance: How does one effectively evaluate the value of preparation for careers in professions that have radically different starting salaries?

While some fields—like engineering or finance—traditionally have high starting salaries, others—like education or law—do not, or may require extended internships or education after the bachelor’s degree.

Starting salary is simply a very limited indicator of a field’s ultimate value both to society and to the individual pursuing it.

At the Center

Creative education is a great example of this. The new app you just downloaded on your smartphone required a designer or illustrator and an animator along with the programmers. And a creative promotional campaign spurred you to download it.

What would the team that launched that new app say to school rankings that advise prospective college students that only the programmer’s future prospects are worth pursuing? The programmer may deliver the content — but artists and designers bring it to life and deliver the customer.

Who’s Got Answers?

As CCAD president, I led a national-level conversation on this question when I co-chaired a panel discussion at the 2012 annual meeting of NASAD (the National Association of Schools of Art and Design).

And as schools outside the United States start to field similar questions from their students, we’re there, too. I was one of just 15 leaders who met last fall in Hangzhou, China, for a conference of the International Art Presidents Network, where I was proud to contribute CCAD’s experiences to the international conversation about global best practices in the constantly changing realm of art and design education.

The good news that we share everywhere we go: there are plenty of data-based ways to describe the value of higher education in the creative fields.

Working—and Happy

The arts compare favorably to other majors in employability and job satisfaction:

  • Even during the recent recession, creative professions have been adding jobs.
  • Arts-related college graduates are finding work in their fields at higher rates than graduates in many science-related fields. Their unemployment rate is a third less than the national average. (And contrary to what Aunt Jackie might predict, only 3% are working in food service!)
  • A recent national study found that 9 of 10 arts graduates were satisfied with the job in which they spend the majority of their work time. And 82% were satisfied with their ability to be creative in their current work.

Private creative education is a powerful investment that pays off.

  • The average three-year loan default rate for private art and design schools is barely half of the national average for all colleges.
  • 80% of undergrad alumni from private art and design schools are now working or have worked in their professional fields after graduation, compared to only 64% from multidisciplinary schools.
  • 71% of graduates from private art and design schools say their college education is relevant to their current work, compared to only 59% of alumni from multidisciplinary schools.

Staying on Target

But value is, by necessity, a moving target. We listen closely to our students and their families. Our partners in the creative economy also help us keep our curriculum in tune with what hiring managers are looking for.

At CCAD we’re leading other art schools by

  • Providing real-life art, design, and entrepreneurship opportunities through the CCAD MindMarket’s DesignLab and the college’s Entrepreneurship Club. (20% of CCAD graduates will launch their own small businesses.)
  • Infusing business knowledge throughout our curriculum. It’s not just important for those who start their own companies — even creative employees need to understand the bottom-line component of their work.
  • Reworking our freshman year to allow broad, accurate exposure to different majors — ensuring right fit between student and his/her specialized training.

More about Careers

Want to read more about the creative economy and what it means for graduates in the arts? Take a look at Columbus College of Loving What You Do, our newest publication at

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Published in print twice a year, CCAD’s IMAGE magazine shares stories about our creative community, whether here in Columbus or around the world—what we’re doing, thinking, and planning next. The IMAGE blog brings those stories online for transmission at the click of a mouse.

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One Response to “The ROI of Creative Education: Let’s Talk”

  1. Stephen Hearne says:

    Well written and informative-