Busting The Myth That Fine-Arts Degrees Lead To The Poorhouse

There’s a widely held conception that people who earn degrees in the fine arts — painting, sculpture, dance, music, theater, among others — are throwing money away on a degree that can reap no long-term benefits. But the fact is that a fine-arts degree is no real hindrance to making a decent living in the real world.

The Wall Street Journal reports on a 2011 study from Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce, in which it found that the median income of recent fine-arts graduates was a respectable $42,000 and that the unemployment rate for those recent graduates was a better than average 7.8%.

“Artists can have good careers, earning a middle-class income,” says the Center’s director. “And, just as important and maybe more, artists tend to be happy with their choices and lives.”

According to that report, former fine-arts majors are making about the same living as all those people who have a liberal arts degree. In some cases, those with a fine-arts background are actually doing better.

“They do a little better than psychology majors, since counseling and social work is a very low-wage occupation,” explains the director.

Unemployment among those with graduate degrees in the fine arts is below 5%, while the median income goes up a bit to $50,000.

While some people leave behind their easels and trombones when they graduate and go get jobs unrelated to their studies, the Journal cites a Vanderbilt University study of around 2,800 fine-arts graduates and found that, between 1999 and 2009, 4 out of 5 of these artists had found work related to their studies.

So if your kids are talking about wanting to go to college and pursue an education in the arts, don’t assume that this is a dead-end full of debt, when it could be the start of a long and happy career (or at least a good way to spend four years).

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  1. MathManv2point0 says:

    As long as it’s their (my uncreated kids) debt and not mine, I’m OK with that. heh

  2. SuperSpeedBump says:

    I think you mean 1 out of 5 artists have found work related to their studies. From the article…

    “The Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy at Vanderbilt University conducted a survey of 13,000 graduates of visual and performing college-arts programs between 1990 and 2009; 2,817 were in the fine arts.”

    • CzarChasm says:

      No they got it right, out of 13,000 arts graduates 2,817 were in the FINE arts and 83% of those had related jobs. I do wonder what happened with the other 10,000 graduates of other miscellaneous art programs though.

  3. CzarChasm says:

    Personally, if you are not getting a degree which directly relates to a job: IE the hard sciences, you are making a big mistake with that college money.

    • FusioptimaSX says:

      What people have a tendency to forget is that it is OK not to get a job that is directly related to your field. An undergraduate (and graduate) education shows potential employees that you know how to think and go through processes properly. It’s essentially the base line item that is looked at for entry level positions. Another thing is that most majors are specific to 60 credit hours (2 years worth of classes) with a 4 year degree. There are so many skills that are learned outside of the specialties of any given major.