Study: Art School Graduates Rack Up the Most Debt

A recent analysis by the Wall Street Journal over the latest Department of Education statistics finds that graduates of art-focused schools tend to rack up the most debt.

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Thomas Barwick / Getty

Pity the poor art student. Not only do art degrees tend to result in lower-paying jobs overall after college, but a recent analysis by the Wall Street Journal over the latest Department of Education statistics finds that graduates of art schools actually rack up more debt than those who attend other types of colleges.

The figures are based on federal education loans taken out in 2010-11 by students and their parents where the student is the responsible lienholder. In 2012 alone, it is estimated that almost 67% of college students who graduated in 2012 had loans, up 63% from ten years ago.

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According to the study, the school with the most debt for its graduates is the Creative Center Art College in Omaha, Neb. The median debt load for each student is $52,035, while over the first five years after graduation an average alum makes around $30,000 a year.

However, that number can be misleading, the school’s president Ray Dotzler claims in a Wall Street Journal interview, saying that students get a decent return on their investment despite the debt they amass. “Salaries can be pretty darn high or pretty low,” he said. Graduates who end up getting jobs in in graphic arts or advertising tend to do well for themselves. “We have graduates making six figures, which we think is really good,” he added, although he admits that some make far, far lower salaries.

The Creative Center is followed by the Manhattan School of Music, where high levels of student debt are also attributed to the high cost of living in New York City. Other artsy schools that have high median debt loads include the Newschool of Architecture and Design in California, the Design Institute of Chicago, the Ringling College of Art and Design and the Digital Media Arts College in Florida.

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School debt is up across the board: as of the end of last year, Americans carried a total of nearly $1 trillion in student debt. But graduates of general liberal-arts schools tend to carry less debt than those of arts-focused institutes, the Journal reports; and those of research universities tend to carry less debt than those of liberal-arts schools.

The Dept. of Education plans to release more data in the upcoming year, including graduates’ salary information, as well as a loan comparison tool so that students and parents alike can see the best return on their educational investment when borrowing.