So What Are You Doing after College? an Investigation of Individuals Studying the Arts at the Post-Secondary Level, Their Job Aspirations and Levels of Realism

By Luftig, Richard L.; Donovan, Melissa J. et al. | Studies in Art Education, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

So What Are You Doing after College? an Investigation of Individuals Studying the Arts at the Post-Secondary Level, Their Job Aspirations and Levels of Realism


Luftig, Richard L., Donovan, Melissa J., Farnbaugh, Christy L., Kennedy, Eileen E., et al., Studies in Art Education


Even in the best of economic times, majoring in the arts in college can be a risky business (Finnie, 2001). For example, recent studies have indicated that arts majors can experience difficulties in obtaining jobs, gaining job security, and experiencing frequent job changes (LaValle, O'Regan, & Jackson, 2000). In a study conducted in Ohio, it was estimated that the economy would support less than 60,000 jobs in the arts fields (Ohio Department of Education, 2001). While at first blush, this may appear like a strong number, over 45% of those jobs were in graphic design or commercial art, while performing arts represented approximately 10% of the jobs. Additionally, the same study reported that more graduated [with training] in these professions than could be absorbed into the workplace.

In terms of pay, a life in the arts may also be difficult. Rates of pay from the 1990s indicate that the mean income for visual artists and performing artists was approximately $23,000 and $19,000 respectively (Alper, 1996). Some arts majors have chosen to go into the paths of architectural design and education, and these have fared a little better. For example during the 1990s the mean income for decorators/designers and architects was approximately $46,000 and $57,000 respectively (Alper, 1996). However, even in these fields, those individuals holding jobs is relatively low (e.g. 3,300 in Ohio) with a 10-year projected job rate of well under 2% per year (Ohio Department of Education, 2001).

When art education majors are factored in, the job picture is not much rosier. While it is true that a strong need for teachers exists overall (Hardy, 2002; Hirsch, 2001), with subsequent raises in beginning pay (Claycomb & Hawley, 2000), it is also true that arts teachers are not in great demand (Case, 1998; Ohio Department of Education, 2001). Again, the Ohio data suggest that arts educators are not included in either the ten largest areas of educators or the ten fastest areas of growth in the field of elementary and secondaiy education.

Finally, finding a job at a competitive rate of pay in the arts in post-secondary environments is also difficult today (Feinsod, 1998; Fordon, 1999). In a study of rates of pay for educators in higher learning institutions (Howe, 2001), the average rate of pay for faculty in arts fields (adjusted for rank) in public institutions was 15.6% lower than faculty in other major disciplines in public universities.In private institutions of higher learning, faculty in the arts earned on the average of 17% less pay than their non-arts counterparts. Thus, it would seem that for virtually all the areas of arts studies in the vocational marketplace, jobs are harder to come by and keep, and rates of pay are lower than the non-arts fields.

Still, prospective arts majors keep coming to study in post-secondary schools. For the most recent years available, 603,000 students were enrolled as majors in the visual and performing arts alone. The number of bachelor's degrees in visual and performing arts increased from approximately 30,000 in 1970 to over 52,000 in 1998. An additional 15,000 individuals received post-graduate degrees during this same period. Again, for visual and performing arts alone, there are approximately 2,000 post-secondary programs that confer degrees (all statistics from Snyder & Huffman, 2001).

Given the current climate of study and employment in the arts, it is of interest to ascertain what current college students in the arts are thinking about their profession, their professional future, and what their plans are in order to pursue their goals of having a career and life in the arts. It would also be of interest to see what alternative plans, if any, such students were making in case they could not pursue a full-time career in the arts.

The current study focused on a cross section of students pursuing post-secondary degrees in the arts to measure their perceptions about their chosen fields as well as to gauge their plans for employment and careers. …

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