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Arts education study draws national attention
May 19, 2010
KALAMAZOO--A study by a Western Michigan University dean assessing undergraduate arts education 10 years into the future has found its way to the White House and beyond.
Dr. Margaret Merrion, dean of the WMU College of Fine Arts, conducted the study for the academic magazine Change. Her findings were presented early this year to Kalpen Modi, associate director of public engagement for the Obama administration, at the White House.
Change is a magazine addressing contemporary issues in higher learning published by the Helen Dwight Reid Educational Foundation under the editorial leadership of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
"I conducted the research project to inform my leadership and to share through publication," Merrion says. "The panel of experts shaped a provocative view of the future with welcoming and alarming predictions."
Merrion's research has drawn interest from other quarters. Late last fall, she presented her findings via Internet2, the advanced networking consortium led by the research and education community. She will speak this fall on the future of arts education at the University of Connecticut.
Merrion conducted the research while on sabbatical leave. She wrote a slightly different report for the International Council of Fine Arts Deans, which is posted on the council's website, and spoke on the subject at a conference session for the council last fall. Members of the council's executive committee presented it early this year at a meeting at the White House.
Titled "A Prophecy for the Arts in Higher Education," the study used the Delphi technique and took several months to compile. The technique was created at the Rand Corp. in the 1950s as a forecasting tool, with the opinions of a panel of experts gathered, critiqued and evaluated through several rounds. Merrion ran her panel of 14 experts through several e-mail surveys, interspersed with a sharing of anonymous responses, challenges and defenses or clarifications of positions, eventually arriving at a consensus.
The experts came from the likes of Ohio State University, Bradley University, California State University Long Beach and the University of Utah and made predictions in eight key areas:
Arts curriculum--In the next decade, the study predicts four major changes. Arts education will become much richer in multicultural influences and influenced by worldwide artistic practices; the demand for "hot" arts fields, like design, multi-media and others requiring mastery of new arts technologies, will be unrelenting; teaching the arts will become more interdisciplinary; the arts will play a larger role in the creative economy.
Arts faculty--Most institutions will begin to see significant faculty turnover and their replacements will not be clones of their predecessors. They will bring a creative-class, global, image-oriented and technologically innovative perspective to the classroom, but will be more centered on their research, creative activities, families and personal issues than current faculty. They will want a greater balance between their work and personal lives.
Students--A surge will take place in enrollment in so-called hot arts fields, including animation and filmmaking, and the competition for international students will be intense. Students will be extremely divided between study and work and require multiple ways of acquiring degrees. With continued erosion of state support of higher education, students will be challenged to find the resources for full-time study. Grants, loans and the like will not completely fill the void.
Places of learning--Significantly more coursework will take place off campus, as internships and community service become formal degree expectations. Study abroad, study away and expedition courses increasingly will be required.
Technology--New content and delivery systems will advance in ways not yet imagined, further enhancing access to information and affecting faculty as well as students. Faculty will need continuous training and must find new ways to help students acquire critical thinking skills. Colleges will continue to struggle with the cost of acquiring and replacing technology.
External support--The vast majority of support for arts units will be raised externally. This reliance on external support could affect programs, as funding is likely to be restricted. Self-censorship could well arise almost unconsciously.
Cultural partnerships--This area has the most dramatic possibilities for enrichment of arts programs. Collaboration will link institutions to their local communities and establish a creative network around the globe. Jointly established learning laboratories could be operated through formal partnerships with corporate enterprises and nonprofit agencies, reducing costs through sharing of facilities, equipment and personnel.
Leadership--The next decade will call for academic leaders to be skilled in cultivating external support and generating productive partnerships.
They will have to engage in perpetual public advocacy for the arts and will be held accountable by multiple constituencies. They will also need to be far-sighted about technological needs and keeping facilities up to date.
Media contact: Mark Schwerin, (269) 387-8400, firstname.lastname@example.org
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