Deans Letter: Preparing Students for Post-College Success

Friday, May 11, 2018
Dean Doug Dempster
From Arts Next Spring 2018

Among many, many other things, a college education is, more than ever, a huge fnancial investment in a student’s career. Over half of all students going to college have to borrow to get there. Student loan debt in the U.S. is now the second-highest category of consumer debt, topping $1.3 trillion, greater even than all credit card debt. 

Is that a smart investment? Well, absolutely, yes, if borrowing $30,000 allows a graduate to earn 80 percent more over a lifetime. That’s about the predicted average increase in lifetime earnings for those with college degrees over those who completed only high school. 

But also, obviously, no, if you’ve borrowed $75,000 or $100,000 to be employed in a job that requires only a high school degree. 

Every college and its faculty is under increasing—and appropriate—pressure to make sure students get to the educational fnish line with a degree. But we’re also under great pressure to deliver on the implicit promise that our students will be well prepared to succeed in the careers for which we’ve educated them and that they’ll realize a decent earnings return on their investment and debt. 

This is especially true for a professional arts college like COFA, where all of our graduate students and most of our undergraduates are pursuing majors defned through accreditation standards as professional degrees. 

Building a best-practice, highly proactive Fine Arts Career Services (FACS) offce under the direction of Dr. Karen Munnelly is one very substantive step toward preparing students for careers. FACS offers professional counseling and job-search resources. They bring in guest speakers and host job fairs and career workshops. Every undergraduate student in COFA is required to fulfll a career counseling visit—a workshop or counseling session—at least twice before graduation. 

We’ve always known that professional internships improve students’ resolve and competence about starting a career. There’s now increasing evidence that these experiences can make the single greatest difference between a well-educated student breaking into a career early or struggling after graduation. More of our departments in COFA are making professional internships, and other professional feld experiences, integral to degree requirements. The B.F.A. in Acting now requires seniors in the program to spend an internship semester in the UT in LA program—and we’re seeing great results from it. 

COFA is also experimenting with ever more creative ways of giving our students and graduates more advantages and entry points in the job market. We are rediscovering the old-fashioned idea of college programs being designed “cooperatively” with the industries and employers wanting to hire our graduates. We’ve done that with our gaming program, with our new major in Arts and Entertainment Technologies and with our new Bridging Disciplines Program in Design Strategies. This fall, IBM professional designers taught one of our Design Strategies courses for a small group of undergraduates from colleges across campus. 

We’re also looking hard at which disciplines in the arts have the best professional outcomes, and encouraging enrollments in those directions. Our UTeach Fine Arts program prepares students for careers as arts educators. Starting salaries in the better school districts of Texas are now edging over $55,000 for a teacher newly equipped with a bachelor’s degree in the arts. And COFA places 100 percent of the students who want those jobs. More than 20 percent of our students are now pursuing a Fine Arts degree with teacher certifcation. School districts continually ask us for more teachers than we can enroll and graduate. 

We’re striving toward 100 percent placement of our graduates. Our students and their parents deserve our uncompromising effort to accomplish that goal. 

Excelsior! 

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