These 10 Art Schools Have the Best ROI

Return on investment. ROI. It’s a term you typically hear when it comes to investing.

It refers to the amount of money you’ve gained (or lost) compared to the amount you’ve invested. You take your total profit and divide it by your total investment. Multiply by 100, and you’ve got your ROI.

You might not typically think of college as an investment, but it absolutely is. You’re investing money in tuition in hopes of graduating and securing a job with a decent salary — your return. The general goal: Pay less for school and make more post graduation. The higher the ROI, the better the value.

That’s why we put together a list of the 10 best value art schools in the U.S. These have the highest 20-year net ROI, according to Payscale.

For reference, the 20-year net ROI refers to the difference between 20-year median pay for a graduate with a bachelor’s degree and the 24-year median pay for a high school graduate graduate minus the four-year cost of college. Basically, that’s the difference in earnings over 20 years between someone who went to art school versus someone who didn’t.

Without further ado, here are the top 10 best value colleges with the highest ROI:

10. California Institute of the Arts (Santa Clarita, California)

photo by Bobak Ha’Eri via Wikimedia Commons

The California Institute of the Arts (also referred to as CalArts) was founded by Walt Disney and his brother, Roy, in 1961. Their vision was to build a multidisciplinary “community of the arts.”

Since then, CalArts has attracted top talent to its schools of art, critical studies, dance, film/video, music, and theater. CalArts says its programs are designed for a “new kind of artist,” one who looks beyond aesthetics and considers the way their art impacts the world.

Outside the classroom, CalArts offers students a number of student clubs and organizations. These include (but aren’t limited to) CalArts Comedy, Game Makers (for video game producers), and Queer Arts Collective.

Additionally, students have plenty of opportunities to collaborate with each other. At the center of the CalArts’ campus is a five-story, 500,000-square-foot building full of classrooms, studios, rehearsal rooms, galleries, costume and machine shops, photo labs, and digital recording studios. This was part of Walt Disney’s vision — to bring various disciplines together under one roof.

20-year net ROI: $185,000


9. University of North Carolina School of the Arts (Winston-Salem, North Carolina)

photo by William Davis via Wikimedia Commons

The University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA), founded in 1963, was the first public arts conservatory in the country. It has five processional schools: dance, design and production, drama, filmmaking, and music. It stands out from other schools on this list because it also enrolls high school students.

Throughout the year, the school hosts three seasonal performances. In these, students are able to perform on stage and also behind the scenes. The School of Design and Production handles the scenery, lighting, sound, costumes, makeup, and wigs for these performances. Every four years, the school produces an all-school music — a Broadway-style production that involves students from all five of the university’s schools.

UNSCA’s list of notable alumni is pages long, but some fun ones include Kennedy Davenport from “RuPaul’s Drag Race;” Brett Gelman, who played Murray in “Stranger Things;” Vera Herbert, a screenwriter for “This Is Us;” Danny McBride, who’s been in “Pineapple Express,” “Tropic Thunder,” and “Eastbound & Down;” and Eddie Barbash, saxophonist for “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”

20-year net ROI: $194,000


8. College for Creative Studies (Detroit, Michigan)

photo by Stanthejeep via Wikimedia Commons

This private college located in Detroit’s Midtown has more than 1,400 students and offers a number of majors, including advertising design, fashion accessories, interior design, photography, and transportation design.

Detroit offers the perfect backdrop to the school’s art students. Nearby, you’ll find the Detroit Film Theater as well as the Detroit Institute of Arts, which is one of the largest art museums in the U.S. (Bonus: Admission is free for students.) It’s also worth noting that while the city offers everything students would want from a big city, Detroit is one of the most affordable cities on this list.

Each year, the College for Creative Studies (CCS) hosts its Student Exhibition Opening, which gives students the chance to showcase their artwork to more than 3,000 attendees. All proceeds go directly to the student artists to help them jumpstart their careers.

What also makes the College of Creative Studies stand out from others on this list is that it also offers free art education programs to more than 4,000 Detroit kids through its Community Arts Partnerships program.

20-year net ROI: $212,000

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