– At a time when universities across the nation are concerned about declining enrollment in the face of a worldwide pandemic, the School of Art at Stephen F. Austin State University is experiencing its highest enrollment in the school’s history.
With a fall semester enrollment of 318 graduate and undergraduate students combined, the School of Art’s faculty members are encouraged by the climbing numbers. The Office of Institutional Research at SFA reports that previous enrollment in the School of Art spanning the past five years reflects 299 student for the 2020 academic year; 308 in 2019; 300 in 2018; 284 in 2017; and 272 in 2016. Prior to 2016, the highest enrollment had been 309 students in 2012.
“We are excited for the future of the School of Art,” said Chris Talbot, director. “I’ve told the faculty members that it is the quality of instruction and the quality of our programs that have made this possible. They have a lot to be proud of.”
Hands-on instruction and art students’ ability to work on interesting projects immediately upon arriving on campus is a plus, Talbot explained.
“There is strong interest in our programs,” he said. “Filmmaking, graphic design, digital media, art education, painting and photography all have increased student interest. Students are interested in learning both the technical and conceptual aspects of art making, but in particular, they want to learn by doing.”
Faculty members across campus were asked this past summer to reach out to students they were expecting on campus in the fall but who had been slow to enroll in a timely manner, and the School of Art faculty and staff did its share of making those contacts. “The art office staff members followed up with each new student individually to give them orientation and advising for their chosen area of study,” Talbot said. “We also reached out to previous students who were not yet registered for the fall in order to help them get back. Sometimes it was just something simple that was keeping them from re-registering.”
Strong relationships between SFA art faculty members and area high school art programs are key in recruiting students.
“We take recruiting seriously and realize that there would be no growth in our program if we just leave it up to someone else to do it,” Talbot said. “We have longstanding relationships with high school programs that know us and trust us to provide what their students are looking for.”
Jason Neumann, visual arts department chair at Cypress Ranch High School, Cypress Fairbanks ISD, said he tells his students about SFA and the exceptional art education the university is known for among art educators.
“I strongly recommend all my students who would like to earn a higher degree in art to consider SFA,” Neumann said. “I genuinely believe the faculty members care about each student and help them grow their creative endeavors. I have been sending students to college for art for 25 years, and I can honestly say SFA produces artists that strive to do remarkable things with their degree.
“SFA is a place where any student interested in nurturing their passion for a creative life can fulfill their needs and dreams under the tutelage of extremely capable and kind-hearted art faculty members,” he added. “The art faculty members at SFA are some of the most talented in their field, and they are constantly growing the program and keeping it current with the movement of the artworld.”
Neumann said he has personally recruited several graduates of SFA to teach art at his school and within Cypress Fairbanks ISD.
The number of graduate students in the School of Art also is increasing, and because graduate courses are funded at a higher state level, that equates to higher unit funding coming to SFA. Graduate assistantships and new tuition assistance incentives are additional tools for art faculty members in their recruiting efforts.
“Our graduate numbers are up,” Talbot said. “A great opportunity for students has been the Lumberjack Education Assistance Program where tuition costs are greatly reduced while working for the university. This has been a fabulous program that helps students reduce debt and provides us with talented help from graduate students who contribute to our program.”
The talent of the art faculty members is in itself a valuable recruiting tool, Talbot said.
“Our faculty members are recognized in their fields,” he said. “We attract students to our programs when our faculty members exhibit their work and students see what they might be capable of if they studied here with us. We offer a very hands-on approach to art instruction. Many students have told me they decided to come here because of the things that they would get to do early in their studies, even at the foundation level, with us that other programs defer for upper-level studies.”
“The SFA art faculty members have built an amazing space for students to learn and to grow as young men and woman and as artists,” Neumann said. “I will continue to highly recommend the SFA art program to my students.”
For information about the SFA School of Art, call (936) 468-4804 or visit art.sfasu.edu.