Technology means you don't need to be on the same continent as your instructor, never mind in the same room. Are four-year programs still worth the cost?
Beware, Sacred Cows ahead...
What follows is an attempt at starting a discussion… this is but one man’s opinion. It will make some people uncomfortable, and for that I apologize.
I was recently interviewed by Michael Jones.
Michael is a fellow Baldite and founder of the incredible Mograph Mentor program. A major topic of the interview was the changing landscape of education in the field of Motion Design. The interview was a lot of fun, and we really dug into what we saw as issues with the current model of “traditional” 4-year programs.
Before School of Motion was a real company with actual courses, I spent a year teaching at the Ringling College of Art & Design in the Department of Motion Design. I worked alongside incredible faculty, taught some scarily talented students, and more or less had a blast the entire time. It’s an amazing place, and there are students coming out of there every year and heading to The Mill, Psyop, Buck…
One day you’ll see Ringling grads running major studios. I promise.
So… during the interview, why was I so critical of the model that Ringling is based on? Why did I end a long rant about the negatives of that very model with the words, “Let’s burn it all down!” ???
Aside from throwing maybe a little too much hyperbole out there, I did have a point I wanted to make… and I’m not sure I did so let me try to clarify a bit.
Before you go any further, make sure you’ve heard the interview so you have some context for what comes next.
One more thing...
I’d like to add a pretty big disclaimer that both Michael and I have obvious interests in seeing education move more and more into the online space. Everything I say really does need to be filtered through the reality that I am running an online education business that… maybe not today… but at some point will directly compete for students with traditional schools like Ringling. I am not unbiased… I will attempt to be as objective as possible, but please keep this in mind as I lay out some thoughts.
Traditional “Brick and Mortar” schools will always exist.
I don’t care how great technology gets, I don’t believe there will ever be a replacement for being in the same room as somebody else. There is an unmatchable social aspect to going to a 4-year program with a group of like-minded classmates, seeing them grow alongside you, hanging out after class, doing stupid stuff together… you know… college stuff.
Michael and I both do a lot of things with our programs to try and recreate some of that feeling in our courses, but it’s impossible to even come close to matching the feeling of being at a place like Ringling. Even when we’re all wearing Virtual Reality helmets and V-Commuting to Virtual Class, it will not feel the same.
Traditional schools (at least ones like Ringling) also have the advantage of allowing students to get a lot of one-on-one time with their faculty, getting much more real-time feedback than an online course can (currently) provide. This can definitely help speed up the process of “getting good” if you take advantage of it, which not all students do.
The bonds formed between student and faculty can last a lifetime and result in collaborations, career advancement, networking opportunities… the benefits are nearly endless.
And on top of all of that, you get to be part of clubs, you get to have Student Work Showcases and guest-lecturers from major studios come and talk to you, and you get to feel like you’re part of this exclusive, amazing (and it honestly is amazing) club.
Well… shoot! Sounds pretty much perfect to me! What’s the downside?
Before we get to the downside, let’s talk about the concept of Opportunity Cost. You may have some foggy recollection of hearing that term in high-school Economics. Here’s what it means (and bare with me, this might get weird):
You go to a bakery with $2 cash in your pocket to buy a donut.
Why cash? Well, this place doesn’t do credit cards. These donuts are legendary, and cost exactly $1. You walk up to the counter and see a new SuperFancy™ Donut for $2. It’s got butter-cream filling in the middle and is 100% organic. Even though you love the normal donuts, you decide to splurge and get the fancy donut. It tastes incredible.
As you’re walking out, Steven Tyler, lead-singer of Aerosmith walks in. He wants to try one of the normal donuts, but doesn’t have any cash. He looks at you and says, “Hey man! Do you have a dollar on you? I’ll trade you a backstage pass to our concert tonight.”
The COST of your SuperFancy™ donut was $2.
The OPPORTUNITY COST of your SuperFancy™ donut was a night hanging out with Aerosmith.
So… nobody is saying the donut is bad. Heck, it probably tastes better than the normal donut does.
But at what cost?
And THAT, my friends, is what I’d like you to think about and discuss.
You can go to an amazing, life-changing, mind-blowing place that really has all of the bells and whistles and does an AMAZING job of teaching you skills… and if that place happens to cost $200,000 for 4-years, and you take out loans to cover those expenses, then you’ll actually end up paying more like $320,000 after factoring in the interest.
What are the opportunities that will be inaccessible to you once you have a debt that large looming over you, AKA Opportunity Costs?
There are obvious things that happen when you attach to yourself an almost-$1800-a-month payment for 15 years. You can’t accept internships as easily. You can’t move to a new city as easily. You can’t plan a wedding, buy a home, or start a family as easily.
But let’s look at this another way.
What are some alternative ways of “learning the craft while meeting and socializing with likeminded artists and students" that you could have chosen to utilize but now you can’t because you’re enrolled in a traditional school with the associated costs and responsibilites? What do those Opportunity Costs look like?
• Moving somewhere with a cool art scene and an existing base of studios / artists / user-groups, maybe Chicago, LA, New York… on the cheaper side you’ve got Austin, Cincinnati, parts of Boston
• Backpacking across Europe for 6-months, experiencing more art, culture, and inspiration than you’ll find at any college.
• Attending every Half-Rez / Blend / NAB type of event, user-group, and meetup that you find. Meeting lots of people, making friends with people who do what you want to do.
• Taking some Illustration & Design courses at a local Community College for cheap..
• Booking a killer freelancer for 2-3 weeks to create something badass and shadowing them on Skype.
• Starting to get projects via Craigslist / E-Lance… NOT for the purpose of making money but for the purpose of getting experience working with a client and doing actual work. Being paid (not much) to learn as you go.
• Going after an internship during the school year when most other students can’t because of their schedule.
• Renting some shared space in a Creative Incubator like New Inc. (http://www.newinc.org/) to work around other artists. Some places will let you hang out / work there for free if you’re a “student” (meaning you are not a professional)
• Contacting local studios, letting them know what you’re doing, offering to take producers / animators / designers / creative directors out to lunch or coffee. You’d be amazed how people will want to help you.
Who defines what "School" is?
Of course, being able to do all of those things depends on your ability to travel way outside your comfort zone, to be self-motivated, to deal with adversity, and to network without forced social interactions. You also still need food and shelter, and nobody will give you a loan to live for a few years while you’re on this quest, you’ll need a day-job. But it’s an option. A quite valid one, in fact.
Yes, there are Opportunity Costs with this route as well, but you can evaluate them and decide if they are less onerous than the more traditional route’s.
You have limited Time (which is non-renewable) and limited Money, and four-years is going to fly by whether you are enrolled at a traditional college or making your own education happen via Life, the Internet, and good old-fashioned networking.
The difference is the Opportunity Cost… what you may give up mid-to-long-term by choosing one route over the other. And that is a very personal decision.
For some, spending big bucks and getting the full-experience is worth it.
I actually said this in the interview with Michael… for some students it’s just a no-brainer. If you’re a rock-star then going to a place like Ringling can propel you to the top of the food-chain in record time. Some students graduate from the Motion Design program there with salaries north of $75K. It’s not the norm, but it happens.
And if you’re fortunate enough to not have to take out loans to pay for the experience… then there is little downside to consider, other than the Opportunity Cost of your Time (your most precious non-renewable resource.)
But for most students (and ESPECIALLY for older students thinking of going back to school), I believe it’s worth truly considering the real cost of those four years and weighing the obvious benefits against the slightly-less-obvious downsides. I believe it’s worth realizing that there are many different ways to end up with a career in Motion Design, a lifelong group of friends, and memories of amazing times.
My advice is to think about what makes sense for you, and to be honest with yourself about the true cost of everything.
The options available to you are nearly endless. It’s absolutely worth considering that, today, the well-worn path leading to a traditional college is only one out of many paths you can choose from.
And if you do this and decide that a 4-year program is for you, I would HIGHLY recommend checking out Ringling as I can’t imagine a finer institution, faculty, or student body.
One blog post is not enough space to really explore this complex topic.
However, it’s my hope that this helps foster more discussion about the way we think about “Education.” I’d like to say that, for the record, I don’t want places like Ringling to go away (though I do hope they find ways to be more affordable)… 4-Year schools can be absolutely amazing, transformative experiences. But please realize that those 4 years will end… and there will be many more years afterwards where the real cost of all that high-end learning may turn out to be far more expensive than you realized.
Through technology, learning no longer requires being in the same room or even the same CONTINENT as your instructor. The downsides of this high-tech arrangement vanish by the day and you may find that the Opportunity Cost you pay for learning your craft the non-traditional way is far more affordable.
I’m not the first to talk about education in this way… here are some other great reads:
Let’s keep the conversation going! Leave comments here, or let us know what you think on Twitter @schoolofmotion.
Thanks for letting me ramble!