Dean Carol Becker in Response to the Wall Street Journal Article
Dear School of the Arts Community:
I am writing in response to yesterday’s Wall Street Journal article about student debt in masters programs with a particular focus on the debt of some of our graduating students compared to their very early career earnings. While we provide the best education possible for our students, we understand that the weight of debt carried by some of our graduating students is increasingly intolerable and unsustainable. Our top priority is and has been to increase scholarships and student support, and to alleviate debt among our MFA students in Film, Theatre, Visual Arts + Sound Art and Writing. We are not alone in this goal. The University also has made a commitment to increase financial aid across all schools with the launch of the new $1.4B Student Support Initiative campaign.
As troubling as the reported data is, the WSJ article relied on the Federal Scorecard data from 2015-16 provided by the Department of Education, which reports the debt of graduating students eligible for federal loans and the income they earned only in the first two years after graduation. The article did not report the increase in our financial aid in recent years, or the success and accomplishments of so many of our alumni. Between 2015-16 and 2019-20, the amount of scholarship funding distributed each year increased by roughly $3.34M. Last year’s graduates eligible for federal loans left school with an average debt of $113K. While far lower than the debt of the individual alumni cited in the article, it is still too high.
A detailed breakdown of the cost-of-attendance is provided on the School of the Arts website and in the acceptance letters to all newly admitted students. In addition, all admitted students receive information about financing options and have the opportunity to meet one-on-one with members of the School’s Financial Aid staff and representatives from Columbia’s Office of Student Financial Planning, which provides in-depth advising on the sources of federal support and terms of borrowing. Students who take out federal loans have required entrance and exit counseling, and a series of financial planning workshops are offered each semester, including Understanding Student Loans. All admitted applicants, students, and alumni also have access to iGrad which provides personalized financial education through interactive online tools and resources.
We are extraordinarily proud of the innumerable achievements of our students and alumni, and I assure you we will not cease in our determination to increase scholarship support, enabling us to continue to bring the very best students from around the world to work with each other and School of the Arts’ faculty to make lasting contributions to society, regardless of their financial circumstances.
Professor of the Arts
Dean of Columbia University School of the Arts