Buffalo State contests dubious arts distinction

A recent magazine article named a degree in the arts from SUNY Buffalo State among the least valuable in America.

The Atlantic cited a report by PayScale, a company that provides salary data based on self-reported earnings from employees across the country. The report said that an arts degree obtained from Buffalo State would give a graduate a negative $122,000 net return on their income over the subsequent 20 years, the 15th-worst in the country across all undergraduate degrees.

The story gained attention locally after it was picked up by television station WIVB.

The report angered many in the Buffalo State community since the college was never given an opportunity to comment before the story was put on television.

In a statement rebutting the report from The Atlantic, Benjamin Christy, dean of the School of Arts and Humanities at Buffalo State, called PayScale’s survey “spurious at best.”

“It seems inappropriate for subsequent reports to cast such a broad brush on our arts programs when the analysis only looks at out-of-state graduates — a group that represents less than three percent of our student body,” Christy said. “The Atlantic report neglects to mention Buffalo State’s incredibly affordable tuition or the thousands of graduates who have majored in the arts and done quite well in careers spanning from law to filmmaking.”

Christy said Buffalo State offers the largest number of visual arts programs in the entire SUNY system and that graduates have gone on to successful careers at many world-famous institutions.

The story from WIVB upset many students from Buffalo State, including Annelle Schwarz, a junior fine arts major from West Seneca, who took exception to the way she felt students were portrayed in the report from The Atlantic.

“As soon as I read the report I was automatically feeling extremely territorial,” Schwarz said. “I love and respect the people in Upton Hall and I know how hard we work. We are passionate about our work. We are always in the studio. Our workloads are heavy and it requires a lot of time to complete what is expected of us. It was really hurtful to read that all of our hard work and time was being considered ‘worthless.’”

Anthony Chase, assistant dean of the School of Arts and Humanities, called into question the methodology of the study.

“Naturally, I was irked by the report and immediately suspicious of its conclusions, which are entirely at odds with our own observations about our alumni and our art programs,” Chase said. “When I learned the details of the research model, I was appalled. The respondents were ‘self-reported,’ and only included a sampling of those who had paid out-of-state tuition, meaning it represented an unscientific self-chosen sampling.

“In addition, the sampling excluded those who are self-employed, meaning anyone who is in any way entrepreneurial, which is a huge focus for our arts programs, was excluded.”

Chase said it is becoming increasingly popular to bash the arts even though Buffalo State’s arts students go on to successful careers not only as artists and designers but lawyers and corporate executives thanks to increasing internship and service-learning opportunities.

“This is a shame, because Buffalo State boasts superior arts programs — the most expansive in SUNY,” Chase said. “Our faculty is amazing and our students are talented, hardworking, and just plain impressive.”


Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @MikeVProvenzano