New Degrees of Creativity: 10 fearless forecasts about the future of higher education in the creative disciplines


This post is a sequel to my last entry, Degrees of Creativity.

We all harbor images of the future in our heads. It tends to make some of us either worriers or cockeyed optimists, and it leaves others perpetually confused and ambivalent.

But it is our ability to envision alternative scenarios that makes us self-aware and self-directed human beings. When we ignore our imaginative abilities, we become slaves to our base instincts and cultural conditioning. Our lives become rudderless sailboats in a choppy sea of choices.

Vaclav Havel, former president of Czech Republic and gifted playwright, hit the nail on the head when he wrote this:

Experts can explain anything in the objective world to us, yet we understand our own lives less and less. In short, we live in the postmodern world, where everything is possible and almost nothing is certain.

I suspect that many Americans of all ages and walks of life would thoroughly agree with that!

The following 10 fearless forecasts are offered as provocative grains of sand that might grow some pearls of wisdom in your mind. Whether you agree or disagree with these prognostications is beside the point. The act of evaluating assumptions about the future will give you a more mindful and considered approach to your decision making in the present.

  1. More young people will enter higher education in their early 20s after military or national service. The 18-year-old college freshman will become the exception, not the rule.

That is how it works in Israel, and their college students are among the most mature and focused in the world. American WWII vets are still lionized as the “greatest generation.” At many non-elite campuses like the University of Southern Maine, a typical undergrad is in his or her late 20s.


  • Work-Study Programs like those offered by Drexel University in Philadelphia and Northeastern University in Boston will become mainstream. Their approach addresses both the need for students to get real on-the-job experience in conjunction with book learning and a sustained exposure to the workplace before making a final commitment to a field or career.


I see so many creative college grads from good schools without any well-honed job skills or any real idea of what they want to do with their lives. With so many educated and clueless creative 20-somethings, it might be time to ask exactly what is going on and why.

If medical and engineering students were so psychologically ill prepared for the rigors of their disciplines, it would be a national scandal with a Congressional investigation. But society does not really care about individuals in the fine and performing arts, communication, or design. For the most part, they are viewed as fungible cultural fluff. Even if 40 percent of BFA and MFA grads leave their chosen careers by the age of 35, there is always a surplus of creative cogs to staff organizations.


  • Dual degree programs between private institutions like Tufts University and Berkeley School of Music, and the Rhode Island School of Design and Brown University, will continue to expand and proliferate. The large state universities will probably develop additional dual majors between departments to attract multi-talented students.


This is an obvious solution for a professionally directed creative young people with strong academic abilities who want to hedge career bets.


  • Both the BFA and BA will become three-year rather than four-year programs. If you factor in the “Junior Year Abroad” schemes (which provide the world’s most expensive teen travel tours with easy academic credits), many four-year college degree programs are already in reality just three-year programs.


This straightforward three-year degree curriculum benefits both the student and institution. It saves the former 25 percent of the cost and time of a four-year degree and makes the latter a tempting option for a young person who might have opted for just a two-year Associates degree at a community college.


  • Any high-profile organization that is esteemed and trusted by the marketplace can potentially offer carefully defined technical/professional certification — much of it online.


I can imagine Apple, Adobe, big city art directors clubs, big city symphony orchestras, big city ballet companies, the ever hip Second City Theater Company in Chicago, Pixar, L.L. Bean, Disney, and Electronic Arts offering respected certificate programs — and making a tidy profit in the process.


  • Independent art schools and music conservatories will get into the online distance learning business after much acrimonious faculty debate and furor.


If these small institutional players don’t use their brand names to reach deeply into a national and international applicant pool, they will probably not remain relevant or financially viable for much longer. But if they do rise to the challenge, their offerings could be among the most innovative and appealing — and profitable.


  • The predictable 40-something midlife crisis will be replaced by an official year-long sabbatical sanctioned by business, government, and nonprofit organizations.


Middle-aged people can look forward to a paid interval of self-examination, redirection, and retraining for the second half of life. This will likely spell disaster for Porsche dealerships, divorce lawyers, bartenders, and anti-depressant manufacturers.

I suspect that these freshly rejuvenated and rebooted “encore” careerists will be viewed by employers as desirable as the currently coveted young and restless folks in their 20s and early 30s. But many of the grayheads will opt for some type of flexible part-time jobs or entrepreneurship. This will tend to ease intergenerational conflict in the workplace.


  • A degree from a brand name New York school will not be a first-class ticket to either a big time career or even a middle class income.


The Big Apple will simply be one of several first tier global creative culture hot spots. I expect London, Singapore, Berlin, Prague, and LA to give NYC a real run for its creative money. Places like Julliard, Manhattan School of Music, Parsons, Pratt, Cooper Union, NYU, The New School, Columbia, and Hunter will still have a huge cachet; but so will Oberlin, Curtiss School of Music, University of Indiana, USC, UCLA, San Jose State, Art Institute of Chicago, Syracuse University, University of Iowa. Brigham Young University, Full Sail University, Brooks Institute, and others.

Having a Gotham credential in one’s bio will be most helpful for the first five years of a creative career, but it is not a big a deal after that. The playing field flattens for just about everyone after 30. It comes down to what you can actually do right now.


  • Healthcare tech degrees or certifications will be the preferred “day jobs” for creative people. This includes nurse’s aide, dental hygienist, radiology tech, lab tech, medical records tech, and personal trainer.


All of these jobs can pay between 30 and 80 dollars per hour, are available on part-time or weekend schedules, are in high demand in all economic conditions and geographic locations, and usually come with health insurance benefits.

Basically, you become your own lifetime patron. Lots of creative professionals burn out in their 40s and go back to healthcare school for a steady paycheck. It makes more sense to do this highly analytic training while young, single, and mentally agile rather than when one is older and often burdened by life responsibilities like teenage children, mortgages, aging parents, etc.


  • Apprenticeship is the new BFA and MFA. Until the 20th century most of the arts were learned in the studios and workshops of older master artists, craftsmen, and performers. If you go to Florence, Italy, you will see that it was a sound approach to both training and credentialing creative and energetic young people.


I would be most curious to know what your “fearless forecasts” are concerning professional creative education. Please submit them below or email them to for my webmaster to post.

One thought on “New Degrees of Creativity: 10 fearless forecasts about the future of higher education in the creative disciplines”

  1. Though I agree with the general thrust of these comments, I am amazed to see no mention of the SCIENCE of creativity and innovation. We have come a long way from simple psychological approaches such as brainstorming and DeBono techniques. I am biased obviously as a practitioner, but not to mention "TRIZ" (Theory of Inventive Problem Solving") in this context is providing readers an incomplete view of where creativity is going. The study of the patent literature and patterns of invention now provide means to teach and train everyone, in a left brained approach, to produce breakthrough creativity and innovation. This technique has been slow to migrate into universities as it takes away some of the "uniqueness" associated with academic inventions, but about 20 schools now have TRIZ within their engineering or business school curricula.

    The study of the patent literature (where we have documented breakthrough creative inventions) provides basic patterns of invention and creativity that are constantly reused across all fields of activity. It is no longer necessary to generate a thousand ideas to find the right one. By generalizing a problem and taking the special jargon used in a particular area, we can always find an existing general solution from a parallel universe that the problem owner is generally unaware of. I invite you and others to learn more about TRIZ from the Altshuller Institute web site, (, the on line TRIZ Journal (, or

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