Thursday, December 06, 2007

Columbia Offers Better Funding?

Honestly, we've been tough on Columbia's MFA program in the MFA blog and in the book. Though I think fairly so. I personally don't like the lack of MFA funding in the big cities of New York and San Francisco. This is not a reflection of the program director's efforts. I'd be shocked if any program director was less than full-on about finding better funding for his or her students. Looks like there's some progress made at Columbia:

Thanks to Mark Byrne for this post:


Given the beating that Columbia University takes on the MFA forums and
blogs (and rightly so, considering the confusing disconnect between
its poor funding and great reputation) I thought I'd call attention to
this paragraph from the cover story that ran in the Atlantic Monthly
this summer:

++And good news came to the program in June. Columbia President Lee
Bollinger pledged to provide the School of the Arts an additional $1
million annually in financial aid for graduate students, a chunk of
which will go toward the M.F.A. program. While there are no firm plans
yet for disbursing the money, "I suspect it will be used to match
other institutions to get the students we most want," said Kleinman.
"I also hope it will stimulate fund-raising, as it's another sign of
the support the [M.F.A.] program has from administration." Students
entering during the 2008–2009 academic year will be eligible for the
increased assistance.+++

I'm sure that every MFA applicant with an internet connection has read
this story, but i haven't seen anyone comment on that note (it was
kind of an afterthought in the story.) It struck me as a big
development: students who are applying this year may, in fact, be
funded by Columbia. One might think hell has frozen over.

Just thought that deserved a mention. It seems the consensus for
Columbia is that if you can't afford it, don't bother applying.
Perhaps, starting this year, that is no longer the case.

Best,
Mark Byrne

21 comments:

Seth Abramson said...

Hi Mark,

The rumor I heard was that only a miniscule percentage of that funding is going to the MFA program, which would certainly be in keeping with the school's apparent commitment to drive down applications to zero.

Seriously, though, I've heard this isn't the shot in the arm MFA applicants had hoped for--though I hope I'm wrong there--but I'd just recommend folks get more information directly from the school before they make what could be a $100,000 mistake.

Best,
Seth

Mark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark said...

Hi Seth,

I hope your rumor is incorrect. It seems like Columbia simply /must/ have realized by now that MFA programs are worth a little cash. At the very least, perhaps the most deserving candidates will receive full scholarships, but that’s still only two students out of, what, seventy?

I think the real issue here is the size of the program. You’d think that if they accepted fewer students, then finding funding would be a more reasonable task.

I’m sure that Columbia’s faculty is acutely aware that they’re losing out on very talented writers. If they took thirty students, a scholarship for the best two would be acceptable (not great, but worth applying to). But out of seventy? It’s still bad.

Here’s the thing, though: it’s a step in the right direction. You can’t deny that. It shows that they know what's up and they're trying to improve. Perhaps they finally did drive the applications down to zero.

Seth Abramson said...

M.,

It's a step in the right direction, definitely. One thing I'll note is that poor funding isn't necessarily endemic to large programs. There are 100 students total here at Iowa, and as I understand it every single one has some sort of special funding: a fellowship, a special grant (either IWW or via Schaeffer), a Rhetoric TAship, a GEL TAship, an internship w/ The Iowa Review, or a special internship (like doing A/V work for the program). The information circulating about the IWW's funding is wrong because it dates from Frank Conroy's time here, when it was actually the case that some people had full funding, some had half funding, and some had no funding. Based on what I know, a huge number of people here (I'd estimate half) have full funding, and the other half get varying degrees of actually quite substantial assistance (i.e., leaving them w/ less than $4000 of annual tuition, and an annual stipend of at least $5000, which generally means that the "least funded 25%" here probably still only need to take out small federal loans for living expenses, coming out of Iowa with an absolute max debt of something like 20K, as compared to 100K at Columbia [for 75% or more of the students]).

S.

Lincoln said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lincoln said...

Columbia's funding has indeed been improving.

The merit fellowships (which while never fantastic, were also not as bad as some Columbia-bashers pretended) increased for last year's class and I know they are increasing again, as the article states. I don't know any actual numbers, obviously, but my guess is that at least a few students would get merit fellowships to cover the majority or all of their tuition.

I know they are also moving forward with teaching programs that will increase teaching and funding opportunities.

It definitly seems to me that it is worth giving Columbia a shot given how great it's faculty and program in general is. Certainly it will be a minority of students funded, but most programs only accept a handful of students anyway so your chances are just as good.

I'm not sure what Mr. Abramson's logic is on a "100,000 mistake." Hopefully you are applying to a large number of schools and weighing the choices and funding packages you are presented with, so your "mistake" for any given school should only cost an application fee.

All best,
Lincoln

Lincoln said...

Mark,

At the very least, perhaps the most deserving candidates will receive full scholarships, but that’s still only two students out of, what, seventy?

Columbia has around 70 students, but that is split over three genres (Columbia has a sizable non-fiction program as well). There are definitly multiple fellowships for each genre, so I'm sure there will be large fellowships for more than 2 people. Perhaps only 2 per genre, I don't know, but more than two out of seventy.

I think the real issue here is the size of the program. You’d think that if they accepted fewer students, then finding funding would be a more reasonable task.

Not that it helps future applicants or not, but I get the impression Columbia's poor funding has less to do with its size and more to do with these two factors:

1) Columbia has its MFA program in the School of the Arts, not the English department. Arts schools are notoriously badly funded and I get the impression that the upper level management is perhaps unaware that other MFA writing programs offer pretty good funding these days and think that they can treat the writing MFA more like a film MFA program.

2) Before this year, there was no undergraduate creative writing major and the undergrad program was not tied to the MFA program. Since the MFA program wasn't part of the English department either, that means there were no classes for Columbia students to TA in. TAing seems to be the major way MFA programs fund their students and Columbia did not have that (They have a handful of spots awarded for composition teachers, I know a lot of people who do that and get full funding plus a large stipend, however sadly those sports are awarded by an unrelated department and the writing program has no say in who gets them).

However, this changed this year. Now the undergrad program has a major and is tied into the MFA program. Teachers can be hired to teach in both programs and they starting to do some TA experiments which should become fixtures.

As you say, definitly a big step in the right direction.

Seth Abramson said...

Lincoln,

Hi, I think you may have taken more from that "mistake" remark than was intended: the original post allowed for the implication that folks should accept offers from Columbia now on the hope/promise that new funding streams will become available at some time in the future; I was simply saying that the best advice is to get actual data directly from the school, as accepting an offer from any school based upon speculation about future funding streams is a "mistake." In the case of Columbia, if you think you'll get solid aid when you accept your offer and end up with none, it's a $100,000 "mistake," because that's the bill you may ultimately be stuck with. At Iowa, where out-of-state tuition is something like 18K and in-state something like 8K, the worst you're looking at is roughly 25K debt from tuition--assuming Iowa's funding scheme falls apart and you end up with absolutely no funding whatsoever, as some folks wrongly think is possible here at UI. [I say roughly 25K, b/c a student wouldn't be eligible for in-state tuition the first year unless they had a TAship or internship, which in my hypothetical the student would not].

Best,
Seth

Seth Abramson said...

P.S. That's great news, about TAships at Columbia. I hadn't heard that, and it certainly bodes well for the future, as TAships are the backbone of any MFA funding scheme (outside of a few schools, of course: Cornell, Texas, Michigan, and so on).

S.

Lincoln said...

Seth,

Ah, yes. I certainly wouldn't accept Columbia (or any school for that matter) with only the hope or vague promise of future aid. You should base your decision on the aid they offer you up front.

Seth Abramson said...

L.,

I've heard even those folks who accept only once they have FA offers say, "Well, I'm thinking the funding in my second year will be better because..."

That's the sort of thinking that worries me, in addition to the thinking of those who accept admission offers before they have a firm FA offer, instead of just a sketch (one of these, "Well, you'll be able to compete for our fellowships, which will be decided in...")

S.

Ana said...

Maybe this will help shed some light on the Columbia funding situation, although the info is now out of date. I graduated with my MFA in October and when I entered I was offered something called a Dean's fellowship, which I was told was the largest fellowship given to entering students, two in each of the three divisions (poetry, fiction, and nonfiction). That's a total of six students receiving the highest level of funding. Maybe it is a full ride now, but in my case it covered only half the tuition, about 15K, leaving me to pay the other 15k, which was still steep for me. I didn't have the option of leaving NY, so I went anyway and took out the rest in loans, but I heard stories from other students later on about receiving as little as 5k. Hope it's changed by now. If I hadn't gotten that fellowship, I could have never attended.

Seth Abramson said...

Thanks for the info, Ana. 6 of 70 students getting 50% funding is/was roughly my understanding of the situation at Columbia, so that gives readers here a sense of how things stand.

Best,
S.

Lincoln said...

As Ana said, that is how it stood when she entered a few years ago. I think my class got a little more than hers and the class below me definitly got more than mine.

All that was before Kluge gave Columbia 600 million for financial aid (I'm sure only a tiny fraction will go to the school of the arts, but even a tiny fraction would be significant) and before the undergrad program was integrated with the grad program, which gives the program a bigger budget and teaching opportunities.

So the situation should be significantly better for anyone applying in the future.

Seth Abramson said...

L.,

Ana must have been talking about 2005. Which means even if the half-scholarships are doubling each year (which would be absolutely extraordinary), that's twenty-four 50% scholarships for seventy students--meaning, one-third of the class would be getting half-assistance, and even those students would still be needing to pay $15,000/year in tuition. Meanwhile, the other 65%+ would be paying $30,000/year. Just putting this in perspective.

S.

Lincoln said...

I'm not saying Columbia's overall funding is at a good level. All I am saying is that it looks like Columbia is fully funding or funding the majority of tuition for its top students. Granted, this will only mean a few students, but some other top programs only accept a few.

I know that this is a big factor for some applicants and part of the reason why other programs with weak funding (including other NYC programs like NYU) have been rated higher by certain.

So if prospective applicants are wondering if there is a shot at getting tuition paid, it seems like there finally is at Columbia.

all best,
Lincoln

Eva said...

The creative writing program at CUNY Hunter College (just across the park from Columbia) received a $1 million grant last year for its Hertog fellowship program. That money gets divided up between 36 students (12 each in poetry, fiction, and non-fic), and isn't shared by other departments. I'm not sure exactly how they're allocating all that cash, but from my experience it seems as if every student at Hunter gets funding.

Here's a link to their site: http://www.hunter.cuny.edu/creativewriting/

/shameless plug

Dovlatov said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dovlatov said...

The $120 application fee required of Columbia applicants is outrageous and insulting. Furthermore, the tuition (which I know from hearing first hand) is over $40,000 per year for most students. If you care enough about prestige and networking to go $120,000 in debt over 3 yrs in an MFA, then more power to you. My suggestion - wait until you get into a program that respects your talent enough to give you the funding you need.

Shopping Blog said...

Before finding out about links of london uk watches you should be familiar with some of the terminology. cheap links of london The word horology has two meanings; it is the study or science of measuring time links london jewellery or the art of making clocks, watches, and devices for telling links of london sale time.Since the first appearance of man on the earth an effort has links of london silver been made to determine time.The tracking of the sun's movement across discount links of london the sky, candles that were marked at intervals.Water clocks did links of london bracelet not depend on the observation of the sky or the sun.

seaeffess said...

I wonder: is there any update regarding the specifics of Columbia's newer[ish] funding? I'm looking for: (1) when do they announce financial aid packages? (2) How much have they been known to offer? (3) What kinds of merit-based scholarships do they offer when they do offer them? I've just been accepted to both Columbia and UBC and the latter wants to hear back from me on March 3rd. Oh, and I do not have 100K lying around begging to be invested in Ivy cachet, so this would be a somewhat serious decision.

Thank you!