Manhattan Misanthrope writes:
Is there any reliable way to judge the strength of nonfiction programs
specifically, or is it safe to say that a school with a good fiction MFA
will also have a comparable nonfiction MFA?
Well, there are a hundred answers to this question and no answer as well. My answer: So much about judging programs is not measurable. (What a horrible sentence. You get the idea). You want to look at things that are measurable: funding, location, and teaching experience. Rank these according to your own needs.
Some people think you should then start contacting current and former students. I think this is placing the cart before the donkey. Go ahead and apply to about ten schools. Then, once you're accepted, do the real research on these two to five schools.
That's my basic advice for any prospective MFA student. Though not ideal, I do think it's the best combination of efficient and effective.
Sorry to be simple with this answer to the second question, but it's the only answer I know: A good fiction program is more likely to have a good nonfiction program than a program with a poor fiction program. There will be exceptions. But in general, that's the smart way to play the odds. Best of luck, MM.