THE BLOG
07/21/2014 02:14 pm ET Updated Sep 20, 2014

Paying for a Performing Arts College Education

Most American families agree that a college degree is essential in order to compete for our countries best paying jobs. So it makes financial sense to invest in your child's college education. But what if your student is pursuing employment in the arts? Is studying at the college level essential to learning ones craft? Chances are, highly skilled performers are more likely to land jobs and sustain employment, than those without formal training. Receiving training in a performing arts degree program within a liberal arts college, affords students an opportunity to learn their craft while receiving a college degree.

Many of the families I advise express concern about investing in arts education, when a successful career in the theatre is so uncertain. Independent college advisor, Erin Ogren, owner of Central Coast College Consultants, puts it this way, "I am more comfortable with my engineering students incurring debt than I am my performing arts students doing so, because of the tremendous differences in earning potential."

If your family is having a hard time justifying the cost of a college education in the arts, you are not alone. Applicants to performing arts BFA programs have been steadily on the rise. I refer to it as the "Glee affect." Wayne Petro, enrollment manager for the School Of Performing Arts at Pace University in New York City, says there were just under 3000 applications indicating a major in the School of Performing Arts, which was a 31 percent increase over last year. And the cost of educating students in theatre, music and dance programs has increased significantly.

A year's training for your budding thespian will set you back about $70,000 at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. And unless you have substantial college savings, you will be taking out loans. And with total student loan debt in the U.S currently over 1 trillion dollars, you have to ask yourself, how will it be paid back?

For performers, it's a scarce job market (more are looking for work than there are job openings). The field has a daunting rate of unemployment. Actor's Equity Association members are out of work on average 80 percent -90 percent of the time. So even though colleges are graduating highly skilled performers, many can't find work. No wonder it seems to most parents, a leap of faith to invest in training and educating their performer child.

It is important for families to understand a college's mission and history of giving. Researching bargain programs and scholarships is well worth the time and effort. Ogren goes on to say, "There is talent money available at colleges across the country. Merit money has increased lately in an effort to help those families without "need." Performing arts students who also have strong academics, receive generous packages of merit money renewable annually for both their talent and strong academics." This is good news for families actively searching for merit award opportunities. Petro reports that 95 percent of Pace students receive aid, and the program offers talent awards in addition to academic merit awarded through the university.

One of the best college deals in the country can be found at Texas State University's musical theatre BFA degree program where, similar to Pace, the total of performing arts applicants runs in the thousands. Department head, Kaitlin Hopkins, reports that 2015 tuition is $9, 500 a year for in-state, as well as out-of-state students. In addition to the bargain tuition, Hopkins says, "there are a lot of scholarship opportunities at Texas State including numerous academic based monies, endowments, need based, National Hispanic, academic merit and artistic awards" Ogren adds, "schools like Texas State University can be very generous in enticing potential BFA candidates with talent money, while New York University focuses instead on meeting the financial need of incoming students with need based rather than merit based awards."

I agree wholeheartedly with Ogren, and advise my families in much the same way. Have a conversation early in the application process about costs, and your family's ability to contribute. The college cost Net Calculators help families get a rough estimate of what college will cost. Armed with that info, families then need to discuss what, if any debt student and parents are willing to take on. And if your student is considering a career in the arts, be realistic. Don't take on a mountain of debt. It just doesn't make sense to be burdened with loans that far exceed your student's earning potential. Grant yourself and your student a good night's sleep.