Innovating Through Artistry

Major Shift

In Interesting Articles on June 12, 2008 at 5:30 am

This article appeared on Monday June 9th in The Chicago Sun-Times about the shift on college campuses towards art related fields of study. While I am in total agreement with the view in this article, that students who study art have a great potential to excel, I unfortunately disagree that there are a plethora of paying jobs opening in arts related fields. A new path to harness artistic talent into a financial vehicle it deserves, has yet to arrive. While the business of art is more frequently being taught, entrepreneurial training is more likely to help an artist find new ways to carve their path and thrive. Most college campuses have yet to understand this, though some, like Columbia College, understand it better than most.

BY DAVE NEWBART Staff Reporter

What’s your major?

For many Illinois college students these days, the answer to that question is music, acting or art.

In fact, students majoring in visual and performing arts at Illinois colleges number more than 25,000 — making the field of study the second most popular, according to unpublished data released by the state at the request of the Sun-Times.

While still lagging business majors by a wide margin — there are nearly twice as many business students in the state — the arts’ popularity has increased faster than any of the other 10 most popular majors in the past decade. The number of arts majors is up 110 percent since 1997.

“A lot of folks believe we are moving more towards a creative economy,” said Murphy Monroe, executive director of undergraduate admissions at Columbia College, now the largest private arts college in the nation. “There is a newfound respect for people with creative problem-solving skills.”

And many of today’s generation have been encouraged by their parents to pursue their dreams, no matter how far-fetched, instead of just settling for any job.

“As long as I can remember, people told me, ‘You can do what you want to do.’ What I want do is play music,” said Dan Wessels, 21, a pianist from Rockford who just graduated from Columbia with a music composition degree.

Adds Brittany Moffitt, 21, a contemporary urban pop music major at Columbia from Elkhart, Ind., “Our generation likes expressing ourselves in some artistic way.”

And Monroe says there are plenty of jobs in arts-related fields, such as designing Web sites and video games, or working in interactive media, television or radio. Wessels already has a job playing piano for improv shows and is the musical director for an upcoming play.

Despite the increase in arts students, most are still practical when choosing a major, experts said.

“Students today view the university as job training,” said Rick Pearce, associate director for academic affairs at the Illinois Board of Higher Education. “What can I do to get a job?”

That could explain why the number of business, marketing and management majors, which decreased in the 1990s, jumped nearly 50 percent in the past decade and has remained the most popular major for more than 20 years. Health and biological fields also saw increases, as did history and psychology.

Psychology could be growing in popularity in part because students are obsessed with themselves, said one professor — and Pearce said it could reflect “the mainstreaming” of the field. It also can prepare students for a range of careers.

“People don’t look at it as [being] for Freudian, strange men wanting to talk about anal retention,” said Pearce. “It’s a legitimate field of study that’s coming into its own.”

Meanwhile, the number of students majoring in computer science dropped statewide, as did the number of students in engineering.

Enrollment held steady at about 5,000 students at the state’s largest engineering college at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. But within that college, fields like computer engineering have lost students. Part of that was because of the dot-com bust, officials said.

In those fields, “There is a perception that it is more difficult to get a job if you work with computers . . . and there is more outsourcing of jobs to India and China,” said Umberto Ravaioli, interim associate dean of academic affairs in the College of Engineering.

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