at State Universities
I have taught at independent schools of art, public and private
universities. My experience also includes being a program
consultant and serving on evaluation teams at a number of
different educational institutions throughout the country.
My view is that each type of institution has particular weaknesses
and strengths in terms of educational organization, practices
and goals. However, the focus here is on Graphic Design education
at state universities .
There are significant operational variances between
schools with corresponding differences in resources, personnel,
and educational requirements. It is doubtful that there can
ever be common standards for all Graphic Design programs.
But at the least, there are minimal conditions, requirements
and resources for professional education in graphic design.
There are four categories of institution offering educational
programs in Graphic Design: independent, single purpose art
schools; public or private universities and proprietary art
schools. Art schools and universities are accredited institutions
and award degrees; proprietary schools give certificates or
limited accreditation. The largest enrollment in Graphic Design
programs is at public universities, and mostly because of
convenience, lower tuition rates and less demanding admission
for each type of institution substantially differ. Art schools
are prone to shape design education according to the marketplace.
This is reflected by areas of study applicants request when
they come to an art school and also how the design profession
is defined. Rather than having a single program, art schools
tend to divide design into several specializations. Design
education is frequently splintered into Graphic Design, Advertising,
Illustration, Computer Graphics, Photography and Video, and
in some instances, it is aligned with Industrial Design. I
believe art schools would do much better to concentrate their
resources into a single broad program of design. By dividing
the design program into specializations, more faculty are
required, additional space is needed, and budgets are so apportioned
that seldom are all programs adequately funded. My experience
with a single program in design is that it can prepare students
to go into a variety of jobs graphic design, advertising,
illustration, type design, multimedia, computer graphics or
other specialized fields.
accreditation came academic requirements, and since the 1960's,
art schools teach Art History and other academics in conjunction
with studio courses. Design students are directed toward professional
practice following graduation. Small liberal arts colleges
make no attempt at professional education but keep programs
general and open to all students who apply. A liberal arts
emphasis also is characteristic of most state university programs.
In addition to the design major, there are requirements for
academic courses and humanities, a substantial involvement
in Art History, and a variety of Fine Art studio courses.
A major exception within university design programs are those
institutions that were once trade oriented, or which absorbed
an independent school of art. These university programs tend
to be less liberal arts oriented and operate more like art
schools, but they have a broader academic base.
schools emphasize training and building a portfolio over education,
and the period of time to complete the program is usually
two years. Admittance is often governed more by an ability
to pay tuition than by talent. The program of study is based
on current professional practices with emphasis on preparation
for employment. The majority of instructors are working professionals
who teach part-time.
Colleges offer Graphic Design programs which are two years.
Most do not attempt to educate but rather to train students
much as the preparatory schools. Community Colleges should
offer two types of program. One in training students for professional
practice as they do now, and one that is preparatory to a
university or art school education. This would entail a program
stressing design history, theory and craft including hand
and eye skills. The program could include technical courses
on the computer, business writing classes and speech.
is nothing inherently wrong with any of these institutional
approaches to Graphic Design education. My contention is with
institutions that mislead students. Most state universities
create an impression that Graphic Design within the liberal
arts context is sufficient for a professional career when
often it is not. The justification for Graphic Design being
taught within the liberal arts curriculum is expressed as
being educationally more sound as opposed to professional
education which is viewed as narrow and inappropriate for
a university. There is no logical rationale for this opinion
when Graphic Design as a professional program is compared
to educational requirements for other professional programs
such as Architecture, Engineering, Law or Medicine.
1969, McNeil Lowry, then Director of Humanities and Arts programs
at the Ford Foundation, addressed the Graduate Deans of Art
in New Orleans. To quote one of his most telling comments,
he said, "I think to put it bluntly, the university has
been having it both ways. It says on the one hand that its
function is the liberal education of the individual, and exposure
to the creative arts is merely one avenue to that end. It
acts on the other hand as if it were training young people
for vocations, and not merely the vocations of scholar or
teacher of the arts but the vocation of artist (designer)
per se." During the ensuing twenty-five years since McNeil
Lowry made his insightful remarks, there has been little change
in administrative attitudes toward the arts at most universities.
too often are victims of false impressions purported by state
universities regarding the type of Graphic Design program
being offered as well as the potential job opportunities for
its graduates. Following graduation, students seek employment.
Only then, when it is too late for most, do they discover
what an inadequate preparation the institution provided. My
experience has been that students enrolling in Graphic Design
are seeking preparation for a career in design, and not as
a liberal arts experience. It is not so much that graduates
from liberal arts programs fail to find jobs as it is that
they are seldom qualified for higher paying jobs with opportunities
to advance their professional careers.
high percentage of state university graduates work at the
lower echelons of the profession which are seldom commensurate
with a university degree. Because of low standards associated
with most university liberal arts programs, weak students
are frequently passed through the system and graduated. They
might never find employment in Graphic Design which leads
to anger and frustration. After all, they have a university
degree with a major in Graphic Design. In the end, these students
have been cheated by the university.
of difficulty finding acceptable and remunerative employment
in professional practice, many graduates turn to teaching
as an alternative. Financially, there is more to gain from
teaching than the level of jobs they can obtain. The influx
of poorly educated university graduates into teaching, as
the better educated students find success in the profession,
compounds an already serious problem in Graphic Design education.