Monday, November 10, 2008

The Future of MFA Funding in Tough Economic Times

Julianna Baggott, Assistant Director of the Creative Writing Program at Florida State University, writes in with this of-the-moment response to a recent NY Times article: "Tough Times Strain Colleges Rich and Poor"

Julianna has kindly reached out to this blog community in recent months--perhaps forecasting a trend toward more transparency and accessibility to program information in the MFA application process. Have a read!

In Reponse to the NY Times Article

I read it and thought immediately of all of you.

Let me preface by saying that I've never suggested that anyone go into creative writing for the money, and I never will. That said, if you're passionate, I don't know that there's any good time to defer a dream. In fact, maybe, in light of the job market, now is a good time to slip under the umbrella of graduate study, to reemerge when the market rebounds... one hopes.

I think that everyone here at Florida State is very aware of trying to protect our graduate programs and, in particular, TA lines. I would be surprised if that weren't true of all well-respected programs. What's more, in discussions here, amid all of the talk of the economic crisis, suggestions have actually come up to take a specific look at creative ways to try to boost stipends, cutting in other areas. As long as we're cutting, we may as well think about cutting strategically!

Toward the end, the article in the NYTimes states that "Given the current climate, some say, colleges need to re-examine all of their economic assumptions." Maybe I'm just an optimist, but this is an opportunity for universities to make difficult decisions. Some of those decisions might actually end up benefiting creative writing programs, which have grown exponentially on a national level in the last couple of decades and continue on an upward sweep.

Of course, you all have to look long and hard at the funding (as well as cost of living) of the here and now. You shouldn't have to defer a dream, but you also shouldn't have to get heaped in debt for one either.

-- Julianna Baggott, Assistant Director, Creative Writing Program, Florida State University

Email Julianna with questions: JCBAGGOTT at aol dot com, or check out the FSU Creative Writing Program


Marc said...

Julianna has some wonderful comments.

Some programs may temporarily falter due to the economic decline, but undergraduate enrollment is still high in state schools, allowing universities to use MFA candidates as TAs to teach freshman composition which ensures some degree of job security for potential applicants.

I’m now a second year MFA fiction candidate at the University of Texas San Marcos. We’ve had record enrollment during this year, with almost 30,000 students. Because of this, the university has to hire more adjuncts and full time lecturers for next year. Most of the MFA candidates hold TA/IA positions. TAs like myself teach a 2/1 work load of freshman composition, and the English department budgeted a 3% raise in our salaries to keep up with the rise of gas prices over the summer.

Our creative writing program is currently expanding and a job search is underway for a new fiction writer and poet for next year. To top this off, the university acquired the Cormac McCarthy papers as part of the Southwestern Writer’s collection, and Tim O’Brien signed a contract to remain on faculty for the foreseeable future.

To my knowledge, all endowments remain fully funded and the university expects similar enrollment numbers for next year. It appears that private schools will be hit hardest, so potential MFA candidates should research which schools expect difficulty in funding over the coming year and plan accordingly.

michelle said...


I truly want to thank you for your involvement on this blog. Posts like this one, and the information you offer on questions asked really make this whole nerve-wracking process a lot easier!!

Mike Valente said...


Thanks for the insight on the program at Texas San Marcos. Regarding private versus public school, I think that both universities will be hit in different ways.

Public schools receive their funding from the state, so if the state government reduces spending, then the public schools will face tighter budgets.

Private schools cover much of their expenses from endowments which come from donors. If the wealth of those donors has deteriorated from the Wall Street fall out, then the endowments will shrink.

Enrollment at public schools is increasing because tuition hikes at public universities are less than the tuition hikes at private universities -- Or they're easier to swallow. But just because a university is experiencing a rise in enrollment, it doesn't mean that the school has the faculty to teach them (example: U of Florida in the NY Times article). In fact, the Cal State system in California is going to cap the number of students that enroll (

In a way, it might behoove MFA students, as more universities might look at them as "cheap" faculty for freshman composition courses.


Mike Valente said...

Another article from the NY Times...

Marc said...


Thanks for the links. I believe that the Cal State enrollment cap is still a proposal and I hope it doesn't pass.

It's clear that the economic crisis effects existing funding and faculty shortages that states have with public universities. And I think it is important for potential MFA applicants to research each school and see how the state provides funding.

Texas has deregulated tuition, allowing universities to set their own price for classes,but this may change.


Catherine said...


Thanks for the post. It's very appreciated.

Under the Lens said...

I'm in the MPW program at USC.

Our funding got cut - the TAships dried up all of a sudden, and good teachers are being sacked.

It's frustrating.

ProspectiveMFAer said...


I'm a prospective student for the MPW program, which is probably my top choice...I was just wondering if you could so graciously answer a few questions I had about it...!

ProspectiveMFAer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jennifer said...

Hi, FWIW I work with a couple of world class economists and they both say that the public school systems are going to suffer tremendously, with the University systems suffering first.

One of them even said this is the end of public schooling as we know it in America.

julianna said...

I'll preface by saying that I'm an optimist. And regardless of institutions, just putting that aside for the moment, poets and writers are translators of the human condition. In hard times, we're even more essential. In good times, we tend to spiral into frippery.

I think that you all, as the newest up and coming generation of poets and writers, have a great challenge ahead. And you're emerging in a time when (perhaps) you'll be even more necessary to our culture.

Mentoring will always exist -- the handing down of craft.

As a professor, I'm giving the gift of giving the gift...this handing down of craft.

I promise to be more grounded and practical in future comments!

All my best,

Julianna Baggott, Assistant Director, Florida State University

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Shaz said...

Would you think the funding options are different for International students? I'm based out of India, and this is obviously an area of concern for me. I would love to apply, but I've heard that funding options give the citizens of the US first preference. And only if there is funding left, because of a lack of local talent base, international students are considered. This is scary, because the possibility of America not having a sufficient talent base is zero. Which in turn would mean my chances of getting a scholarship are almost negligible :-(

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